Antiquity of Advaita Vedanta (was Re: An Open Letter to All)

nanda chandran vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Jun 5 18:01:54 CDT 2000

Sorry for the late reply. Have been travelling and didn't have the time to

Vidhya writes :

>??? It is Nagarjuna himself who says that SUnyatA is SUnya.

Only in the conceptual sense and not in the ontological sense. The sole
reason why many people misunderstand NAgArjuna is that they do not
distinguish between ontology and epistemology. Not only NAgArjuna, one can
say the whole MahAyAna tradition almost exclusively concentrates on
epistemology. They concentrate on the subject of the validity of the
pramAnas - the means of knowing. An ontological reading on these texts
naturally winds up in wholescale misinterpretation.

>And equally well, to say that by being a Bauddha, Nagarjuna presumes an
>absolute state is to indulge in speculation about the ontological >basis of
>the Madhyamaka. Something that Nagarjuna avoids totally.

The MulamAdhyamaka KArika is a purely epistemological treatise. Hence the
conclusion that everything is shUnyam. If one bases NAgArjuna's teachings on
this text alone, there's a chance that one can come to the conclusion that
there's no ontological basis for the MAdhyamika.

But NAgArjuna is also the author of other texts like the commentary on the
MahAprAjnApAramita ShAstram, VigrahavyAvartani KArikA, UpAyakaushalyahrdaya
ShAstram, RatnAvali etc. In these texts the absolutistic implications of his
dialectic are present. When viewed from the collective whole, NAgArjuna
seems to be an absolutist. And VAsubandhu himself seems to be developing his
doctrines in his VijnAptimAtratAsiddhi.

>How does this matter? You are ignoring the flip side of having no >thesis
>about the nature of reality, and that is the idea of pratItya->samutpAda,
>or the codependent origination of all dharmas. The two go >hand in hand.

The MAdhyamaka school is basically the interpretation of the central Bauddha
doctrine of pratitya samutpAda as shUnyata. Everything in this world is
dependently originated. Remove one and the other doesn't exist. So
everything is shUnya.

But this is not an ontological reading. It's basically an epistemological
analysis. The world is the world we *know*. NAgArjuna is not stupid to say
that a solid rock is empty. He only points out that what know as the rock,
is only a conditioned conception and that we do not know the true nature of
the thing - the thing in itself. So the conception of the rock is shUnya.

And if you read the chapter in the MulamAdhyamika KArika where he examines
pratitya samutpAda, he says all that is dependently originated are in
reality, pure and calm - the anti thesis of shUnya.

>No, Jayarasi Bhatta does not wish to deny the validity of *all* >pramANas.
>Perception (pratyaksha) always remains valid for him. Not so >for

Not so. JayarAshi is not the run of the mill ChAravAka. He is an absolute
nihilist who denies the validity of *all* pramAnas. In his
Tattvopaplavasimha, he devotes a whole chapter to deny perception as a valid

>Not so. My argument is all about the basic axioms of his logic. Given >his
>axioms, Nagarjuna is highly rigorous. What the Vedanta accepts and
> >Nagarjuna doesn't is an axiom. That is what it boils down to. You want
> >to read this axiom as an unstated corollary into his system, which is
> >what our argument is all about.

See - even according to NAgArjuna's logic which works on opposites, to
negate the world, you need something to negate it on. Why is the world
shUnya? Because it is dependently originated. But just because something is
dependently originated why should it be unreal? Yeah, sure the whole world
is temporary, but so what? That temporary world itself is the reality for
us. So why should it be shUnya?

Because it is the spiritual experience of Gautama Siddhartha against which
the temporary world is pitted against. The Buddha is different from the
normal man. So what is it that makes him different - he's beyond pratitya
samutpAda. (Those who do not understand the MAdhyamaka dialectic, please do
not argue that for NAgArjuna even the Buddha is unreal. Please try to
understand the distinction between ontology and epistemology).

So to even say that something is dependently originated and hence shUnya,
the implication is that the self-existent - the real - is the base it is
negated on. To say the world "is not" implicitly means that reality "is" -
to say man is shUnyam means the Buddha "is". Without the opposite there's no
meaning to the negation.

>Does he? He is clearly well read in Nagarjuna's dialectic, but does he
>really try to reconcile Buddhism with Advaita? Or does he propound >Advaita
>through a dialectic that had been used earlier by the Buddhist?

So why does GaudapAdAchArya say that you need "being", to even give meaning
to the four fold negation? Isn't he trying to point out that for the
MAdhyamika to be logically consistent, he needs to be absolutistic?

>No, we are not, really. Every school talks of its end reality as >salvation
>or liberation. How they conceive of this end reality is not >the same. At
>least, I'm prepared not to equate the two specific cases >we are talking of
>here, till it is conclusively proved otherwise. And >I don't think there
>ever will be such conclusive proof. So, we can >agree to disagree, without
>having to argue about it.

Ofcourse, I never denied that the approaches are different. But to be
logically consistent, the MAdhyamaka has to be absolutistic. Infact the onus
is on those who do not agree, to prove that it is not.
Get Your Private, Free E-mail from MSN Hotmail at

bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

Archives :
Help     : Email to listmaster at
Options  : To leave the list send a mail to
           listserv at with
           SIGNOFF ADVAITA-L in the body.

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list