advaita and Buddhism

Anand V. Hudli anandhudli at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Jun 7 16:41:49 CDT 1999

I apologize to Ganesh for posting a reply to some of his (private) e-mail
 but he raises some issues that may be of interests to others in this list.
   1) Shankara's defence or opposition to animal sacrifices as per the
     second chapter of the gItA bhAShya.
   2) The broader issue of Buddhism and advaita.
   3) Whether GauDapAda merely gave a "Buddhist interpretation" to
   4) If the Buddhism and advaita share the same goals what difference
      does it make if they only differ in the details.

 Here's my response.

 I agree that Shankara might not have actually encouraged animal
 sacrifices, but I do maintain that he was well in agreement with
 the Vedas, unlike Buddha, and so Shankara must have agreed with
 the principle that killing of animals in Vedic sacrifices does
 not constitute a breach of dharma. I am positive that this was
 his stand because his commentary in the sUtra-bhAShya (3rd adhyAya)
 is unmistakable. Even if there is any seeming contradiction in
 other commentaries of Shankara (which I doubt very much is the
 case), the sUtra-bhAShya has long been held to be one of the
 unquestionable works where Shankara is identified as definitely
 being the author. Whether he held an exactly opposite view in
 personal life is open to speculation and therefore cannot be

 Regarding the broader contention of yours that Buddhism did not
 borrow from the upanishads, I sincerely disagree. I have been trying
 to authenticate a verse I received from private communication
 which I hope to post to the list in a few days. The verse is from
 the work of Mahendra Varma a Pallava king who came _before_ both
 GauDapAda and Shankara,and he mentions in the verse ideas from
 the upanishads and the MahaBhArata were borrowed. Surely he could
 not have been defending GauDapAda and Shankara.

 The discussion of who is a true brahmin in the mahAbhArata, for
 example, is echoed in the DhammapAda.

 Regarding your contention that advaita borrowed techniques from
 Buddhism, this is open to interpretation. It is true that some
 advaitins such as shrIharSha made use of Buddhist arguments against
 logicians, but this hardly says anything. In a hypothetical argument
 with, say the VaishNavas of today, I may very well make use of
 western logic because of its almost universal acceptance today.
 And I may defend advaita using western (propositional/predicate
 logic) as a mere tool. Does that make me a Christian? Or does it
 make advaita Christianity-in-disguise? No. Why not? Because, the
 use of such logic is NOT indispensable to advaita. advaita can stand
 on its own without the need for western logic arguments. It so
 happened that it was just a preference of mine to use such logic
 to defend advaita. MadhusUdana SarasvatI, for example, makes
 extensive use of nyAya terminology in his defence of advaita.
 Does this then make advaita a borrower of concepts from the
 nyAya school? No. In a similar fashion, just because shrIharSha
 or even if GauDapAda used Buddhist terminology/techniques in arguing
 for advaita says nothing about the indebtedness of advaita to Buddhism.
advaita can stand on its own as an independent system;
 there is no dependence implied or otherwise on other systems, as
 far as the core doctrines are concerned. So I find the criticism
 that Shankara and GauDapAda borrowed Buddhist concepts to come
 up with advaita and suggesting that advaita is a mere variation
 of Buddhism, rather amusing. I would insist that it was
 Buddhism that borrowed, without acknowledgement, many ideas from
 the upanishads and the mahAbhArata until I see concrete evidence to
 the contrary. Even so-called modern historians and scholars agree
 that upanishads existed before Buddha and even they concede
 that at least parts of the Bhagavad GItA are pre-Buddhist.

 I would also give little importance to academic scholars and so-
 called intellectuals. Many a time on the advaita list, the attitude
 of the academicians has been discussed and many others, besides me
 feel that whatever the academicians say must be taken with a large
 dose of salt! Others who claim to be intellectuals too, out of a
 regrettable inferiority complex feel that whatever good there is
 in Hinduism/India is borrowed from elsewhere and whatever bad there
 is in Hinduism/India is indigenous. The ramblings of those who belong
 to this category is not worthy of consideration.

 Finally, what I meant by "the devil is in the details" is that
 just as it is important to define ideals and goals, it is equally
 important to define the means by which those ideals and goals
 may be achieved. Even if one were to agree that the ideals of
 advaita and Buddhism are the same, which they are certainly not,
 the means of achieving those ideals are vastly different in advaita
 and Buddhism, due to the fact that one accepts the timeless Vedas as
 the final authority and the means, and the other takes a clear stand
 against the Vedas. Carrying this line of reasoning further, what is
 achieved by the following the Vedas (including the upanishads) cannot be
 the same as what is achieved by not following the Vedas or by going against
 the Vedas. If the opposite were the case, the Vedas would be redundant. And
 this is an absurd and unacceptable position. This is yet another argument
 to show that advaita and Buddhism cannot have anything but a similarity
 that only the naive would be guilty of perceiving.


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