Advaita and Buddhism

Sankaran Panchapagesan panchap at ICSL.UCLA.EDU
Mon Jun 28 04:37:50 CDT 1999

  Thanks to all those who wrote, for clarifying the situation regarding
Advaita and Buddhism. Just for the record's sake, I would like to make it
clear that I did not understand or imply that Advaita was
prachanna-Bauddha at all. In my e-mail to Anand Hudli, I only quoted
T.R.V.Murti who says that Advaita "borrowed technique, not tenets" from
Madhyamika/Vijnanavada Buddhism.  I am just starting to read on this topic
and basically accepted whatever I read in T.R.V.Murti's book. Thanks to
people for pointing out that he might not be always right (interpretation
of Madhyamika as Absolutism, etc.), and the contributions on the subject
are highly appreciated.

Members of the list have pointed out in many places in the archives that
the most important difference between Advaita and Buddhism is that one
insists on affirming Atman as the essence of all, while the other insists
on denying an essence in anything. In understanding this vital difference,
I found a comparison between two texts of the two schools helpful.

        In one of the Buddhist (I don't know whether it's Mahayana or
Hinayana) texts called "Milindapanha", a king called Milinda (supposed to
be Greek king Menander of Punjab I think) meets a Buddhist sage (Nagasena,
I think)  and has a dialogue (panha?) with him.  The basic point Nagasena
makes is that though he is called Nagasena, there is nothing essential to
him, he's just a temporary combination of flesh, bones, senses, mind, etc.
just like the king's chariot is a temporary combination of wheels, axle,
etc. Just like the chariot will completely cease to be if it is dismantled
or if it is broken, so too the human being (in fact neither really exists
at any time, according to Nagasena). There is no essence at all to either
the chariot or the human being, or to anything in the world, no Self to
living creatures.
        This is in stark contrast to the Chandogya Upanishad text, where
the Rshi UddAlaka AruNi asks his son Svetaketu to bring a nyagrodha(=
banyan?)  fruit, asks him to break open the fruit, and asks him what he
finds. When Svetaketu says there are many seeds, UddAlaka then asks him to
break one of the seeds. When Svetaketu has broken it, UddAlaka asks what
he found, and Svetaketu says nothing. Then UddAlaka says that That unseen
Essence which causes the seed to grow into a big (banyan?) tree, is the
Atman, That art thou (tattvamasi).

Hope I've understood and presented the viewpoints properly.


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