Bouddha Encounter

Chandran, Nanda (NBC) Nanda.Chandran at NBC.COM
Mon Mar 2 09:29:10 CST 1998

Last weekend I'd the opportunity to meet and talk with a Srilankan
Buddhist monk. One of my Srilankan Tamil friends took me to meet him in
a small house in Queens, Newyork.

After some refreshments in the basement, he took us to the living room
and we had a small talk. He told me that he was of the Theravada branch
and corrected me in my statement that it's was Buddhaghosa who founded
the school, saying Theravada meant the way of the elders, in the sense
that in a Sangam, the young Bhikshus wanted to modify some of the old
teachings and when the elders differed they split and formed the
Mahayana. He also told me that Buddha had visited Srilanka three times
(which is quite strange since our history books say that Buddhism was
spread to Srilanka by Ashoka and his children).

After a few minutes discussing some history and dharma I asked him about
Nirvana. He said it's something which cannot be put in words and can
only be experienced - this I understood. Then I asked him what was the
school's stand with respect to the Soul? He pointed to a small plastic
chair and asked me what it was? I told him it's a plastic chair and then
using Vedanta logic said it's actually plastic with a name and form. But
he said it's just something which is made up of four elements and if
it's left the same way it's right now, over a period of time it would
disintegrate and vanish! The same concept applies to us, he said -
finally it's all nothing! When I asked him about rebirth, he said it's
only in our mind and nothing is reborn!

Where've I heard this before? I asked him if he's expounding the
Madhyamika's concept of Shunyata? He nodded (I was surprised at this
since I wasn't aware that Theravadins followed Nagarjuna's logic!). I
asked him if it's true that there's nothing at the end, then who's doing
this negating? Who would say there's nothing at the end? Because even
this concept requires a negator - can he himself be negated? But even as
I said this, I remembered the Shruti, 'That which the mind cannot
comprehend and nor the eye see' - was is it an alternative way of
putting it? He didn't seem all that keen to answer my question and I had
my own doubts and didn't want to appear argumentative. So I said that
I'd probably have to read more, thanked him and left.

But it struck me, isn't defining Brahman to be Existence, Intelligence
and Infinite, itself limited to the power of our intellect only? Is our
statement that you cannot negate the negator, the result of our ego
asserting itself? Can it be positively said that there cannot be nothing
at the end? What if everything just evaporates at the end? I'm not sure
if I'm conveying what I want to convey, but I hope the netters get the

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