beginningless avidyA and transmigration

Anand V. Hudli anandhudli at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 4 12:31:05 CDT 1999

On Thu, 3 Jun 1999 16:06:39 -0700, Sankaran Panchapagesan
 <panchap at ICSL.UCLA.EDU> wrote:
>        To my beginner's mind, it seems as if the problem in advaita is
>similar to the one in buddhism, where I read that a specific causal chain
>leading to rebirth after death after birth, is called a transmigratory
>chain, without there being anything called the soul (or something like
>that.), which again ends when the intuitive knowledge of "SunyatA" is
>gained. (i.e.  cessation of "avidyA"). As I seem to understand it, finally
>both buddhism and advaita deny the existence of a "soul" that
>transmigrates. Am I right in having a preliminary understanding that
>Buddhism and Advaita are very similar except that one (advaita) talks in a
>positive vein by affirming the existence of Atman/Brahman and the other
>(buddhism) in a negative vein by either denying the same, or refusing to
>speaking about it?

 Similarities can be misleading and downright dangerous! You are right
 in saying advaita denies a "soul", if you mean "jIva", the individual
 soul. Even this denial is only from an ultimate viewpoint. advaita
 certainly accepts the transmigration theory of the "jIva" as much as
 any other system in Indian philosophy, where "jIva" is understood to
 be Brahman reflected in a liN^ga-sharIra (subtle body). This acceptance
 is, of course, only from a vyAvahArika viewpoint. From a purely
 academic viewpoint, the apparent similarities between Buddhism and
 advaita are because they can both be traced back to the upanishads.
 This does not mean that advaita borrows from Buddhism. Only that
 both have a common source, the upanishads.
 In all probability, the Buddha got His enlightenment from studying
 the philosophy of the upanishads which were pretty well-known during
 His time. And He attacked the Vedas and misled the people, because
 that was His mission. This may be a purely Hindu view of the Buddha,
 but it is surprising to see how quickly so many people dismiss the
 view as fanatic. What if the Buddha was, in fact, trying to mislead
 corrupt Brahmins of the day into giving up their corrupt practices?
 Is this so implausible as to dismiss it entirely as opposed to the
 view that He was teaching a genuine philosophy? I don't think so.
 Some of harshest criticism of Shankara in the BrahmasUtrabhAShya is
 against the Buddhists.

 The vital difference between advaita and Buddhism is that the former
 acknowledges, accepts, and upholds the validity of the Vedas as the
 means of knowledge regarding Brahman (shAstra-yonitvAt.h of the
 BrahmasUtra's). Buddhism, on the other hand, which no doubt borrows
 several ideas from the upanishads goes on to denigrate the Vedas,
 the very source of its ideas! But Buddhism positively denies any kind
 of absolute entity such as the Brahman/Self described in the upanishads.
 The result is some kind of a distorted version of what is contained in
 the upanishads. And this distorted version serves the purpose of misleading
 people rather than presenting a genuine teaching.

 Regarding Vedic sacrifices and like, Shankara vigorously defends the
 use of sacrificial animals in his bhAShya on the BrahmasUtras. Even
 in the upadeshasAhasrI, he says that when the mind becomes pure like
 a mirror, vidyA manifests itself (chitte hyAdarshavadyasmAchchhuddhe
 vidyA prakAshate). Therefore he goes on to recommend Yama, niyama,
 obligatory and purificatory Vedic sacrifices (yajna's) and austerities
 (yamairnityaishcha yaGYaishcha tapobhistasya shodhanam.h).

 Sometimes people say that there are broad similarities between Buddhism
 and advaita and only the details differ. But, we would say: "the devil
 is in the details!"


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