Antiquity of advaita vedanta (was : an open letter to all)

nanda chandran vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Jun 20 15:06:14 CDT 2000

>The verse (kArikA 4. 99) reads naitad buddhena bhAshitam. The verse doesn't
>stand alone. The entire set of verses from 4. 91 to 4. 99 need to be read
>together, as they are full of references to "buddha". As far as I can see,
>throughout these verses, the reference is generic, to one who
>is "awakened". The verses should also be related to kArikA 1. 16 -
>anAdimAyayA supto yadA jIvaH prabudhyate ajam anidram asvapnam advaitaM
>budhyate tadA. Throughout the kArikAs, the word "buddha" is used, but to
>read references to the Mahayana concepts of dhyAnI-buddhas, pratyeka-
>buddhas etc. is too much of a stretch.

Maybe, but the problem is that the last chapter of the KArikA - the
AlAtasAnti PrAkarna - reads like a MahAyAna text. The style of the
dialectic and the words used so closely resemble the MAdhyamaka texts
that one is reminded of NAgArjuna. And in that sense the last chapter
is definitely distinct from the other chapters and this is one of the
main reasons modern scholars have started speculating on the connection
between Advaita and Buddhism.

But again it doesn't stop with that. The AchArya says,"there're some
who uphold non-dualism and reject both the extreme views of being
and non-being, of production and destruction and emphatically proclaim
the doctrine of no-origination".

There can hardly be any doubt as to who the AchArya refers to here -
the MAdhyamikas. So what's his view of them?

"khyApyamAnAm ajAtim tair anumodAmahe vayam" - "We APPROVE of the
doctrine of no origination proclaimed by them"!

And also notice his reasoning on the lines of VAsubandhu, the
VijnAnavAdin, by equating the dream state with the waking state.
That he endorses the VijnAnavAda analysis is asserted by none
other than Shankara himself in his commentary on the KArikA -
"VijnAnavAdino bauddhasya vachanam
bAhyArthavAdipakshapratishedhaparam AchAryena anumoditam".

And it is not that only the VedAntins were eager for a reconciliation
with the bauddhas. Read the MadhyAtma Samgraha of BhAvaviveka, a
svatantra MAdhyamika writer, who approvingly quotes GaudapAda himself
and accepts that reality can be expressed the Advaita way.

Ofcourse he's slammed for this by the prasangika MAdhyamikas lead
by BuddhapAlita, for they were quick to realize that to accept the
Advaita position would mean implicit acceptance of the Buddha
teaching only the Upanishadic truth and would spell doom for Buddhism
in India.

Actually in Shankara's works, only three MahAyAna writers are quoted.
There's one single verse from DignAga, a couple of verses from
DharmakIrti and the bulk of the MahAyAna views are quoted from
Tattva Samgraha of the last great Bauddha philosopher - SAntarakshita.
SAntarakshita fuses both the MAdhyamaka and VijnAnavAda schools with
the doctrine of momentariness, as inherited from the svatantra
vijnAnavAdins - DignAga and DharmakIrti.

In refuting the reality of various schools, SAntarakshita says in his
Tattva Samgraha regarding the Atman of Advaita : "We have only a slight
objection to the reality of this school - that the reality is considered

This is the classic argument of the Bauddhas who say that affirmation -
to say that reality "is" - being a category of the intellect, can apply
only to the phenomenal world and will lead to eternalism.

It is in reply to this argument that Shankara says that if the
shUnyavAdin doesn't admit a higher reality, he's a self condemned

Beyond that Shankara has no argument against the MAdhyamika. But what
exactly is the difference in saying that reality cannot be equated with
phenomenal existence (MAdhyamaka position) and reality is, but is
beyond phenomenal existence (Advaita position). And Shankara's assertion
that the phenomenal world is anirvAchaniya - that it is neither real, nor
unreal, nor both, nor neither is without doubt based on the classic
chatushkoti of shUnyavAda.

By VijnAnavAda, Shankara only refers to the svatantra-vijnAnavAda school of
DignAga and DharmakIrti, where his main point of criticism is the
momentariness of consciousness. Neither Asanga nor VAsubandhu, the original
and teachers of the VijnAptimAtratA, teach that pure consciousness is
momentary. For them consciousness is permenant in contrast with the
phenomenal world which is momentary. It is only with the svatantra
vijnAnavAdins that the earlier doctrine of momentariness is fused with
vijnAnavAda and it is this theory that Shankara's criticisms are aimed

But it has to be pointed out that Shankara's criticisms applies against
the original vijnAnavAdins too, where their doctrines match the svantantra
vijnAnavAdins. Shankara Advaita is definitely an improvement on VijnAnavAda
logic and here GaudapAda stands criticized as well, for he agrees with the
VijnAnavAda position of equating the dream state with the waking state.

Chronologically too, NAgArjuna, Asanga and VAsubandhu are centuries earlier
than Shankara. While DharmakIrti might have preceded Shankara only by a few
decades, SAntarakshita might have been a contemporary.

Here again I've to state that I'm not saying that all the three schools
- the MAdhyamaka, the VijnAnavAda and the Advaita - all of which teach
non-dual absolutism are the same. Each of them approaches from a different
standpoint, with different arguments, sometimes criticizing each other and
other times approvingly quoting each other too. Their difference lies in
their emphasis - while the MAdhyamika concentrates on the unreality of the
world, the VijnAnavAdin concentrates on bringing out the ontological
implications of shUnyatA, the Advaitin concentrates on reality and its
relation to the phenomenal world.

But while the MAdhyamika doesn't spend effort trying to bring out the
psychological/ontological implications of shUnyatA, the VijnAnavAdin
attempts this but with flawed logic and it is perfected only by

But it is without doubt that it is in Advaita that the argument stands

>It is clear that whoever is being mentioned here is one who taught the
>difficult method of asparSa-yoga, the highest advaitic sAdhana. Is there
>anything that shows that asparSa-yoga was first taught by the Buddha or by
>Nagarjuna? I am unaware of it.

Apparently the way the AlAtasanti PrAkarna flows, the AchArya is only
pointing out to the bauddhas that the Buddha only taught the ultimate
truth of the Upanishads - asparSa yoga. So ,"naitad buddhena bAshitam"
- "this truth was not uttered by the Buddha", is only GaudapAda pointing out
that even before the Buddha, the same truth was taught by the Upanishads.

>I agree with Anand, that your reading of vAcaspati and others is not
>correct. I can say that some person is very intelligent, without being
>complimentary. It is like the Tamil way of saying, "hmm, chamattu!" when
>what is intended is a rebuke. The use of irony has to be appreciated.

VAchaspati is the author of many works of various schools. In his NyAya
VArtika TAtparya Tika, he denounces the MAdhyamikas as fools who deny
all the valid means of knowledge. But this should not be taken to be
VAchaspati's ultimate position regarding the MAdhyamikas. For writing
the work as a NaiyAyika who're traditionally bitterly opposed to the
Bauddhas, VAchaspati condemns them thus.

But again as an Advaitin, who along with the MAdhyamikas asserts the
ultimate unreality of the pramAnas, VAchaspati lauds them as of having
a superior intellect.
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