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

Rajiv Malhotra rajiv.malhotra at WORLDNET.ATT.NET
Wed May 17 12:24:28 CDT 2000

Thank you, Shri Nanda Chandran. This is also my understanding.

Madhyamika when properly understood is saying the same as Advaita Vedanta.
Radical emptiness is that there is no-thing, which is that maya (as things)
is unreal. (Unreal is in the same sense in both cases, i.e. relative and as
mithya only.)

Radical fullness of Vedanta is also that nothing with any boundary (special
or in time) is maya because the absolute is without boundaries.

Nagarjuna deconstructed maya by attacking anything with boundaries. This
DOES NOT APPLY to Brahman, which is a non-thing as per Vedanta.

Moving beyond the caste politics of Brahmin controlled Vedas verses mass
publicly accessibly Madhyamika, these two traditions can be used (and indeed
were in history) to deepen each other's understanding and experience. Like
travelers going on the earth's surface in opposite directions will
ultimately meet, and seem to be opposite only during the incomplete journey.

Rajiv Malhotra

-----Original Message-----
From: List for advaita vedanta as taught by Shri Shankara
[mailto:ADVAITA-L at]On Behalf Of nanda chandran
Sent: Wednesday, May 17, 2000 8:45 AM
Subject: Antiquity of Advaita Vedanta (was Re: An Open Letter to All)

Atlast a constructive response! I was beginning to think the jnAna tradition
is a thing of the past!

Vidhya writes :
>Let us not second-guess the realization of Buddha, who is said to have
>remained silent. When I talk of the Buddhist Sunyata, I talk primarily >of
>the Mahayana understanding, as set forth in Nagarjuna's karikas. >There,
>Sunyata refers to the "emptiness" of all things, but >"emptiness" should
>not be made into a thing in itself. Nagarjuna would >vehemently deny any
>sort of making Sunyata into an absolute.

Perfect. But where does NAgArjuna say that Shunyata itself is the reality?
Shunyata is restricted only to human conception. The world is only the world
that we *know*. And all this *knowing* is ultimately unintelligible and
hence it is shunya. In this *knowing* falls both the categories of samsAra
and nirvAna and that's the reason they too are shunya. But *paramArtha* is
the ultimate truth and that is beyond *knowing*. By implication it cannot be
defined as "absolute", since absolutism itself is a conception. But again
this is only logical quibbling and doesn't matter much in a sense of
spiritual realization.

Wrongly interpreting the famous verse in the MAdhyamaka ShAstram which says
there's no difference between samsAra and nirvAna, most people link shunya
-> samsara -> nirvAna -> parAmartha and hence the great confusion about
reality being shunya and the MAdhyamika being a nihilist. The problem is
further accentuated with the MAdhyamika's exclusive concentration on the
unintelligibility (shunya) of the phenomenal world. NirvAna is used by
NAgArjuna only as the *conception of reality* and that like other
conceptions are shunya. ParamArtha is what he refers to as reality and it's
the thing in itself beyond human conception.

Such misinterpretations are due to the MAdhyamaka ShAstram being read in
isolation. It should be read with the PrAjnapAramitA literature and also the
ShradothpAda ShAstram of Ashvaghosa.

When read with the proper background, it is obvious while the MAdhyamika
almost exclusively concentrates on the unintelligibility (mAyam) of the
phenomenal world, the VijnAnavAdins take up and develop its positive
implication as the VijnAptimAtratA (the common interpretation of VijnAnavAda
as subjective idealism is plainly flawed).

In Advaita we see corrections of the mistakes of VijnAnavAda and the
philosophy developed from a positive angle. While the MAdhyamika's main
interest is the unintelligibility of the world, Advaita's main interest is
the Reality (Brahman). But both have so much in common that the great
Advaita dialectician Sri Harsha himself admits that he's no problem with the
MAdhyamika if they're absolutists. As mentioned before, it's only logical
quibbling that makes the Bauddha shy away from absolutism.

Incase non-Advaitins start the chorus of "prachanna bauddham", let me also
state that though both schools don't mind using the same methods to condemn
the phenomenal world, their approaches towards reality is from diagonally
opposite directions. With Advaita, reality is approached from the Self,
while with the Bauddhas reality is approached from the non-Self - anatta.

And about ShankarAchArya being anti-Bauddha, again let me say that he's no
serious problems with either the MAdhyamika or the VijnAnavAdin. While he
brushes aside the MAdhyamika as a nihilist (which he definitely is not), his
arguments against VijnAnavAda are not against the VijnAptimAtratA of Asanga
and VAsubandhu, but against the Svatantra-MAdhyamika school of Dharmakiirti,
which tries to fuse the momentariness (kshanikavAda) doctrine with the
VijnAptimAtratA of VijnAnavAda.

Ofcourse in the days of yore when there was a need for taking a strong stand
with tradition, such deliberate mistakes might have been necessary. But now
in this present day, when the situation is different and all the facts are
there for us to see and gauge, there's no need for dogmatism.

Infact with so much misunderstanding with the concept of "mAyA" among
Advaitins, the MAdhyamaka ShAstram itself is a fantastic guide to what the
concept means. Read and understand that and know what jnAnam meant in the
traditional sense - it's purely intellectual. It's jnAnam as the means, par
excellence. For JnAnam as the end (nirvAna or moksham), we can switch to the
Advaita manuals. And that's what Sri Harsha does!
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