advaita and Buddhism

Sankaran Panchapagesan panchap at ICSL.UCLA.EDU
Mon Jun 14 18:26:16 CDT 1999


  I am sorry for the very late reply, but because of course-work I
couldn't respond.

> 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 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.

Can you clarify the question regarding the gItA bhAshya?  I would like to
be clarified on this question, since it seems to be an important one on
ahimsA to me.

I am not saying that animal sacrifices in the vedas are adharmic. They
were dharmic, at that time and place. Are they still so? I remember
reading somewhere that earlier animal sacrifices used to accompany even
rites like the SrAddha ceremony, etc., but are no longer carried out. Are
brahmins doing animal sacrifices nowadays? I think not. Else, can we
conclude that "vedic" dharma is dead?

Below is the question on the gItA bhAshya I sent to you, for the
reference of the other members of the list who might be able to help
clarify on this topic:


        In the gItA bhAshya (translation by Alladi Mahadeva Shastri) in
the commentary to the second chapter where he begins, Sankara first puts
forward the arguments of those opponents who hold that moksha can be
achived by a combination of works and knowledge, and then refutes this.
When the opponent's views are stated, he finishes by saying something like
"this is clearly tantamount to claiming that sacrifices which though
involving cruelty to animals, etc.  do not incur sin." He then begins his
argument by saying "This is *wrong* since....", and then argues that works
cannot lead to liberation by themselves.
        It is not clear since Sankara does not say anything definite on
animal sacrifice as such after this. Also, comparing Alladi mahadeva
Shastri's and Krishna Warrier's translations of the gItA bhAshya at this
point, I see that they are slightly different. But in his opponent's view
he includes the view that Animal sacrifice conjoined in the Veda does not
result in sin, and then proceeds to refute the objection.
        As I said, the main reason why I believe Sankara was against
animal sacrifice is because his biography portrays him as a hindu reformer
because of whom wide-spread animal sacrifices ceased. In one Indology
mailing list, Vidyasankar said that AcAryas' arguments in their works need
not alaways reflect their actual attitudes. There was the example that
Ramanuja arguing against Sankara says that if we were to accept his
philosophy, caste distinctions make no difference, and this is totally
against our varNASrama dharma system. This might lead us to believe that
Ramanuja was a strong casteist. But as is well known, he is known to have
opened the gates of the temple (Melkote?) to the untouchables who till
then were not allowed into the temple.
        Similarly, Sankara in the brahma sUtra bhAshya, is arguing against
heterodox opponents, who obviously are the ones who would object to animal
sacrifice as a reason for rejecting the veda. Here, he has to affirm that
animal sacrifices are in fact *virtuous*, since they are sanctioned by
scripture. In the gItA bhAshya, he is arguing against orthodox opponents,
and he seems to argue against animal sacrifice. Also, his reputation is
that of a reformer who criticized animal sacrifices to Rudra, DevI, etc.


>  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.

I do not deny that Buddhism borrowed from the Upanishads or other hindu
epics, etc. Only, your statement that the Buddha got his enlightenment by
studying the upanishads, does not agree with what I read. He certainly had
"hindu" (and jain as well, I read) teachers, who taught him sAnkhya and
yoga, which helped him in the initial stages, but he reached final
enlightenment all on his own. But he disagreed with them with respect to
metaphysics. In the whole of the Buddha's teachings and criticisms of
other (then) current philosophical systems, there is not one mention of
Brahman (the Absolute), while there is a lot of criticism about brahmA

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

The Dhammapada is supposed to be the original teaching of the Buddha
himself. There are numeroud places in the Buddha's dialogues (and
Mahavira's too, I think) where he states who a true brahmin is. These
ideas might well be independent because of the "corruption" of some
brahmins at the time. With regards to "scholarly opinion", I have
generally read that the Mahabharata has taken these passages 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 neither understood, nor stated that Sankara and Gaudapada borrowed
Buddhist concepts. Most of the concepts they use, I understand, are all
established in the "oldest" Upanishads. According to T.R.V.Murti, in "The
Central Philosophy of Buddhism" the buddhists' interpretation of the
buddha's teaching (which seems to be independent of the upanishads, from
what I have read), seem to have influenced the advaitin's interpretation
of the upanishads. The advaitins borrowed arguments, not tenets. I quote

"Gaudapada appears to us as the brahminical thinker boldly reformulating
the Upanishadic ideal in the light of the Madhyamika and Vijnanavada
dialectic. But there was more borrowing of technique than of tenets. The
Vedanta philosophers did not and could not accept the Buddhist metaphysics
- its denial of self, momentariness, etc.; but they did press into service
the Madhyamika dialectic and the Vijnanavada analysis of illusion. No
absolutism could be established without the dialectic and a theory of

 I understand it is an old book and from what you say, it might well be
that vedantins influenced the buddhists themselves, as future historians
may show.

>  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.

Do you include T.R.V.Murti under this category? I don't think you can. He
is very respectful towards both Advaita and Madhyamika in his book (to be
expected, I suppose, since he's an Iyer:-)). I am certainly not one such
person, either.

Anyway, nowadays the attitude seems to be different: Whatever good there
is in Hinduism, is indeed native, but due to the "indigenous non-Aryan
pre-vedic religions".  Whatever bad there is, is due to the "invading
Aryans, who learnt all that is good from the natives whom they
subjugated." !!

As far as history goes (in my view), Buddhism is as much a product of
India and Indians, as Vedic religion is. Every major development in
buddhism was by native Indians (also some Sri Lankans), some of them even
brahmins who converted to Buddhism (Nagarjuna, etc.). So, There has been
influence from both sides on each other. Why deny any "good" effects of
Buddhism on Hinduism? These may have well been the reason for absorption
of buddhism into hinduism.

>  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.

Most of the Buddha's objections were against the excesses of some
brahmins. My brother Kartik had posted, long ago, a letter from our
Veda-Guruji, who is very traditional, is very knowledgeable in the
scriptures, and is quite respected in Sringeri. In his letter, he says, it
is said that people at the time of the Buddha, used to perform excessive
animal sacrifices just to eat meat, and the Buddha was right in opposing
the "vedic religion" at that time.  If traditional scholars in India think
this way, I don't see why you should choose to be hostile to the Buddha
just because he opposed the vedic religion of his time. As I said, the
Buddha never seems to have been exposed to upanishadic ideas of Brahman,
etc. only the kind of AtmavAda of the Sankhyans, Jains, etc., and he found
them to be defective.

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.

I believe that anybody who is devoted to the pursuit of truth, and has
God's grace will get enlightenment. The Vedas certainly are a gift to
Hindus in this regard, and might even be the shortest path, according to
vedanta. But I do not think you can deny moksha to all non-hindus just
because they deny the authority of the vedas. To people who are born as
Hindus in India, Vedas are of central importance. But they might well be
redundant to people from different countries and cultures, don't you
think? You should give the Lord some credit for taking care of his
devotees in different parts of the world according to their culture. I am
not saying this out of any pretense, but seriously believe in this. That
is why, I think, hindus do not try to convert anybody else, nor should
anybody else try to convert hindus. What do you think?

>From ADVAITA-L at LISTS.ADVAITA-VEDANTA.ORG Mon Jun 14 23:57:59 1999
Date: Mon, 14 Jun 1999 23:57:59 EDT
Reply-To: List for advaita vedanta as taught by Shri Shankara
To: List for advaita vedanta as taught by Shri Shankara
From: Elizabeth Lisot <Parvatijai at AOL.COM>
Subject: Sankara and Bhakti
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Dear Devotees,
              This is a conversation between Sri Ramakrishna and a
Visitor in 'The Great Swan'.
 Visitor: Master, if God alone is obviously or subtly performing every
action, why is a person subject to the results of his negative thoughts
and deeds?
 Sri Ramakrishna: My friend, you are talking obsessively, like a
goldsmith weighing out grains of gold. You are permitting your mind to
become pervaded by self-centered, self-serving calculation. O mind, why
not wander through the mango orchard like a carefree child? eat ripe
mangoes and be immersed in bliss. What use is there in calculating how
many hundreds of trees, how many thousands of branches, how many million
of shining green leaves? Why speculate on how much income the mangoes
will produce in the village market? Why even investigate the process by
which these fruits spontaneously spring forth? You have come to this
planetary orchard to taste Divine Sweetness. Taste directly and be
supremely content. You have taken birth in this beautiful human form to
worship, experience, and eventually merge with Divine Reality. Taste
God's Love. Kiss the fragrant Lotus Feet of the Lord. Do not become
distracted by attempting to analyse Divine Mystery. Can you experience
God by speculating about God? Will you ever know Truth by
philosophizing? A few sips of the precious Wine of Love will throughly
intoxicate you. Why leave the full glass untouched on the table while
inquiring how the wine was produced or estimating how many gallons may
exist in the infinite wine cellar?
      "The wine in God's Tavern is beyond all measure, beyond all
conception, beyond all description. There is no limit to it. Absolutely
no limit". Namasivaya!

Jai Ma!
Love Parvati

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