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

nanda chandran vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Jun 8 19:11:48 CDT 2000

Vidhya writes :

>Which is precisely why one should not read the Mahayana texts as implying
>an ontological absolute. And one should not read an >implication of a
>substratum on which negation takes place. Mahayana >epistemology does not
>need such a substratum. More about ontology and >epistemology in another

I look forward to reading your arguments on the subject.

But Vidhya, read carefully the rest of my post. Logically to negate a thing,
you need something to negate it on. There needs to be a basis - a
presumption on which something is negated. According to NAgArjuna,
everything is dependent originated. But this alone doesn't make the world
mAyA. It is because the relation between the dependent originated is
unintelligible, that NAgArjuna says that everything is like a city of
GAndharvas or an illusion.

And unintelligibility only affects the epistemology and not ontology.

Also it is not really true that there're no metaphysical implications
in the MAdhyamaka ShAstram. There's a very vital quote in the text
where NAgArjuna says, "when one lets go of the *notion* of the Self, the
attachment to 'I' and 'mine' too vanishes". Just because one follows the
doctrine of anatta doesn't mean that there's no Self. What is, is. NAgArjuna
only asks to let go of the conception of a Self or Ego. When individuality
is erased, pure consciousness remains. Actually the qualifications which
ShankarAchArya insists for eligibility to learn Advaitam is only the
practical implication of the anatta doctrine. Such a person would be without
an Ego - which's what anatta means - the selflessness of the Self.

>If nirvANa is SUnya, and nirvANa is also pure and calm, why is purity >and
>calmness the antithesis of SUnyatA?

Because nirvana is shUnya in its epistemological sense. Is salvation
something to be achieved or something which already is?

If nirvAna is something to be achieved, which implies change ie somebody who
evolves from samsAra to nirvAna, then they could very well evolve back from
nirvAna to samsAra. Again, if nirvAna already is, what is the use of the
practice of virtue and meditation? To say it is both to be achieved and it
already is, is logical inconsistency. So it is in this sense, since our
coneption of nirvAna is logically unsound, that nirvAna is shUnya.

But that doesn't mean that nirvAna doesn't exist. The Buddha himself is the
proof that nirvAna is and that nirvAna is pure and calm in its ontological
sense. But what it is and how to express it, is the problem.

>That is interesting. In which case, it would perhaps be wrong to call >him
>a cArvAka in the first place.

But he himself salutes Brhaspati and glorifies himself as a follower of the
true doctrine of LokAyata. That the school accepted perception as a valid
means of knowledge is only the view of the authors of rival schools. What
the schools views truly were can be confirmed only if some original text of
the school other than Tattvopaplavasimha is unearthed.

>You don't seem to understand. This is a subtle criticism of >Madhyamaka,
>and precisely because its adherents by and large refuse to >accept an

>Let us leave ontology and epistemology and absolutism and relativism >aside
>for a while, and look at how Gaudapada and Sankara treat >Madhyamaka

>If as you claim, Nagarjuna himself accepts the absolutistic
> >interpretation, there are only two possibilities with respect to
> >Gaudapada.

>1. Later Buddhists shied away from Nagarjuna's absolutism. Gaudapada
>   tried to show these later Buddhists that their own logic demands
>   an absolutism, in order to be consistent. In other words, he told
>   the Buddhists of his day to return to Nagarjuna. Strangely enough,
>   he did this in a Vedantic text.
>2. Gaudapada either completely misunderstood Madhyamaka thought, or
>   borrowed it wholesale.

>As for Sankara's criticism of the school in his brahmasUtra bhAshya, >there
>is only one possibility. If, on your showing, the Madhyamaka >does accept
>an absolutism, Sankara's criticism that it does not, must >have been based
>on a complete misunderstanding of that school. If you >have a different way
>of understanding these texts, do enlighten us.

It's my view that point 1 is the case. The Buddha didn't teach MAdhyamika
dialectic. He only taught the four noble truths and the eight fold path -
ethics and meditation. He opposed the sacrificial religion and the caste
system. He also disliked metaphysical speculation and asserted that his was
not a darshana
or school of philosophy, but a yAna or a vehicle to liberation.

To attract the masses, his personality and compassion itself might have been
enough. But the brAhmanas were a whole different cup of tea. They took pride
in their intellect and their philosophies. To convert them one had to prove
to them intellectually whichever way was advocated - so dialectic was the
way. Though the Buddha didn't engage in metaphysical speculation, there's
ample evidence in the nikhAyas that he was a keen dialectician. Also his
dialogues are mostly with brAhmanas - Vachhagotta, Kashyapa, Mogallapatissa
etc. He criticized existing theories about reality and won many brAhmana

His followers too took the same path in their proslytization efforts.
Milindapanha one of the early Bauddha texts, itself engages in heavy
dialectic. And throughout the history of Bauddha thought, destructive
dialectic is predominent. The MAdhyamika school is pure dialectic.

But again mere dialectic is not NAgArjuna's purpose. The MAdhyamaka ShAstram
itself is a great intellectual exercise in neti neti. Though existing
philosophical theories are refuted, the attention is directed more towards
general conceptions of philosophy than schools is particular. It's a sincere
attempt at intellectually grasping mAyA. So NAgArjuna's intention wasn't to
develop another theory that
all theories are empty and rigidly stand behind it like the later
MAdhyamikas. He only develops a tool to be used to deconceptualize the mind
and ascend to a higher plane of philosophical consciousness.

As great a thinker as VAsubandhu who comes two hundred years after
NAgArjuna, who is the only bauddha to be given the honor
as the second Buddha, couldn't have misunderstood NAgArjuna. He himself only
develops the implications of NAgArjuna's philosophy in his
VijnAptimAtratAsiddhi, where it is taught that reality is pure
consciousness. While NAgArjuna is a logician and a linguistic philosopher,
it is VAsubandhu who is the logician and
psychologist. While the former deals with the conceptual world, the latter
digs into the psychological basis which gives rise to the conceptual world.
It is my opinion that it is VAsubandhu and his pupil DignAga who're the true
followers of NAgArjuna. Actually a careful reading of Bauddha authors will
show that, while the above three concentrate on true philosophy, trying to
ascertain the truth
through the intellect, their followers e.g Sthrimati or Dharmakiirti are
rabidly sectarian - spending more effort attacking the theories of other
schools than coming up with anything constructive.

But then the Brahmanical schools too had improved and Advaita had surfaced,
which itself was logically as rigorous as the Bauddhas. So how could the
Bauddhas now win their converts?

Opposed with Advaita, the MAdhyamikas had to resort to logical quibbling.
Philosophical integrity though important, wasn't their main concern. That
truth couldn't be grasped by the intellect was a forgone conclusion. So how
did it matter if *theories* however close to reality, were refuted. It was
to win followers for the Sangha - to win disciples for the dharma as taught
by the SAkhyamuni - that they refuted even their brothers the VijnAnavAdins
who were straying too close to VedAnta. If I was a MAdhyamika and I
confronted a BrAhmana Advaitin - even though I knew that our philosophies
weren't too
different, I would have no qualms about refuting his theories to win him
over to my side. However important intellectual integrity might be to me, it
still pales in comparison to the greater good of furthering the glory of the
TathAgatha and the dharma and also promoting an egalitarian society devoid
of meaningless rituals (atleast as per the Bauddhas, as I personally do not
think that Vedic rituals are meaningless).

So philosophy and dialectic was also used as a tool to win followers for the

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