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

Rajiv Malhotra rajiv.malhotra at WORLDNET.ATT.NET
Wed May 17 18:54:32 CDT 2000

Nagarjuna's stand is that the paramArtha perspective is just that things are
SUnya. It is not as if there is another, different, higher reality that is
not SUnya. That is what is meant by tathatA in his works.

In that case, what state was Buddha in after enlightenment? He was not
asleep or dead. If he negated one reality and there is no other at all, then
who was he after realization? What reality was he in, if none existed?
Hence, I interpret that by no other reality, he means none that can be
conceptualized, so people do not turn it into some concrete image such as
Christianity's 'heaven' and start visualizing, wishing etc. That would keep
them locked into samsara, merely replacing one constructed reality for

Maybe, I am wrong. But this is how I have viewed his message and learnt from

I don't doubt at all the spiritual realization of the Buddhist masters. What
I don't get is why we should insist that what the Buddhist realizes is the
same as what the Vedantin realizes, in terms of the ontology of the state
of realization. Or at the very least, in how they describe their own

I recommend a great book called NONDUALITY by David Loy. It is about a
detailed comparison between Vedanta and Madhyamika in this specific respect.

The correct Buddhist answer to this would be, "To say that paramArtha
exists, as a thing in itself, beyond human conception, is itself a human
conception." Thus, they would avoid the extreme of absolutism. The Vedantin
counter-response would be, "To deny that there exists such an ultimate thing
in itself would lead eventually to nihilism."

Perfect. Both are valid statements. Each states how the other could be
misleading. That is the risk with both.

*If* they are absolutists. But the Buddhist would deny this. So why should
modern readers of both systems thrust an absolutism upon the unwilling

One tradition prefers the negative path, focusing on getting out rather than
imagining what lies afterwards.

If the Madhyamaka were to say, "Of course, I do postulate a Higher Reality,"
Sankara would have no argument against it.

If he were to accept higher reality, it means some idea in the mind, or else
it's meaningless. Meaning must refer to an idea you are holding. That's a
conception in linguistic terms, and hence name and form.

 Moreover, to see the mutual criticisms of Advaita and Madhyamaka against
each other in
terms of deliberate mistakes is an insult to the intelligence and integrity
of the very spiritual masters whose realization you claim to respect and
learn from.

I don't think these were deliberate mistakes. These were using different
language for different audiences. One wanted in terms of the Vedas and the
other did not. Its no different than people cloning a software program that
does the same thing but you can get it without paying the same price. Why is
that any insult to anyone?

The Vedantin can learn and has learnt a lot from the Buddhist, and vice
versa. But we need not go about thinking that their philosophically subtle
differences were driven by non-philosophical factors. Finally, from a purely
pragmatic perspective, and this is for Sri Malhotra, if Hindu Indians say
that the Madhyamaka and Advaita are really only the same thing, it will be
seen as yet another instance of neo-Vedantic inclusivism, which
simultaneously seeks to disempowers that which is so included. That would be
self-defeating for your purpose of influencing academic studies and
perceptions, I should think.

I respect your views. My own experience in sociological terms has been that
when it comes to the West, nothing is more powerful than a Hindu-Buddhist
unity. This has worked every time it was tried. But you do make a good

We may point out the similarities, but we
should also honor the differences in thought. After all, from a non-dual
perspective, either Advaita Vedantic or Madhyamaka Buddhist, all words are
only conceptual, and where there is conception, there is room for
difference. So even if one thinks that the ultimate reality is the same for
both schools, one has to take seriously the different ways in which each
seeks to describe it, and account for it properly.

Yes, this is true. They might be more about methods of description within
the mental realm rather than the higher states themselves.

 Caste is too easy and pat a reason. I don't think it alone explains every
such thing in India.

I agree with this also. It just seems amazing to me why historically both
sides fought so hard when there is so much in common.

bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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