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

nanda chandran vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu May 18 09:02:36 CDT 2000

>Perfect. But where does NAgArjuna say that Shunyata itself is the >reality?
>Shunyata is restricted only to human conception. The world is >only
>theworld 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 cannotbe

>>Nagarjuna's stand is that the paramArtha perspective is just that >>things
>>are SUnya.

ParamArtha is the truth. Even if one really understands the logic of the
MAdhyamaka ShAstram or Aryadeva's Catuh ShAtaka, we can understand why the
world is shUnyam as NAgArjuna meant it. So it is not necessary to be
ParamArtha to understand shUnyam.

>>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.

Then why do you think NAgArjuna even talks of two levels of truth - the
samvritti satyam and the paramArtha satyam? ShUnyam itself falls under human
conception and thus cannot be equated with the ParamArtha. TathatA is
"suchness" or the thing in itself as explained by the PrAjnApAramitA texts
and the ShradothpAda ShAstram. That is beyond conception and hence beyond
shUnyam. But other than saying there's a higher level of truth and it is the
quiesence of plurality, NAgArjuna doesn't say anything beyond that.

>>I think it goes beyond logical quibbling. It goes down to far more
>>fundamental principles of how we understand the universe around us, >>and
>>thereby how we think about ultimate reality. 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

If you say the reality of both schools are different, given the nature of
the schools realities, then believing in one's reality automatically
excludes the other's reality. Being different, they would be mutually
exclusive and  to believe in one of them is to deny the other.

>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.

>>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

This is what is meant by logical quibbling. So to be logically perfect the
MAdhyamika prefers silence. But by implication and by being a Bauddha he
endorses the reality.

>>Thus, they would avoid the extreme of absolutism.

Absolutism had no meaning in NAgArjuna's times, since there was no school
which propounded such a theory then. His argument is not against absolutism
but against eternalism - to say that the Self or what the Bauddhas
deliberately interpret as the Ego, is eternal. So his opposites are
eternalism and nihilism and absolutism doesn't figure in it.

>>The Vedantin counter-response would be, "To deny that there exists >>such
>>an ultimate thing in itself would lead eventually to nihilism."

Which all the MAdhyamikas have profusely denied being. So by implication,
they agree with the VedAntin. If you read the MAdhyamaka ShAstram, all of
NAgArjuna's dialectic is only to prove that nothing is intelligible. But
that doesn't mean that it isn't. But again he will not say it is, because
existance itself is a human conception. It's just taking logic to absurd
levels. But by being a bauddha, by accepting a higher level of reality and
to even make his logic coherent, he implicitly accepts a higher reality
(which ofcourse cannot be called existence because only this world - samsAra
- exists! Oh! NAgArjuna is maddening!).

>the Reality (Brahman). But both have so much in common that the great
>Advaita dialectician Sri Harsha himself admits that he's no problem
> >withthe MAdhyamika if they're absolutists. As mentioned before, it's
> >only logical quibbling that makes the Bauddha shy away from absolutism.

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

Chandrakiirti, probably the second most famous MAdhyamika, seems to have no
problems with such an interpretation. BhAvaviveka, a MAdhyamika writer,
himself also accepts absolutism. And it is my opinion that the emergence of
Advaita is what finished off Bauddha philosophy. The orthodox alternative
was much fuller and was supported by tradition too. To follow bauddha
philosophy was only to pursist in logical quibbling. With a traditional
alternative, there was no need to go the Bauddha way.

>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),
>>He does not brush it aside at all. His remark is cryptic, and not at all
>>well understood - to say that >>things are SUnya, without also postulating
>>an Absolute Higher Reality >>that is not, would lead to nihilism. If the
>>Madhyamaka were to say, >>"Of course, I do postulate a Higher
>>Reality,"Sankara would have no >>argument against it, but that is
>>precisely not what the Madhyamaka >>would say, for he does not postulate
>>an Absolute, the way we are >>prone to interpret SUnyatA or paramArtha

Again read the chapter on examination of the four noble truths, where
NAgArjuna explicitly says that if everything were shUnyam what's the profit
in pursuing spirituality? He says this nihilism is the wrong interpretation
of shUnyam, for it is only at the level of samvritti and ParamArtha which is
beyond shUnyam is the higher truth. So he does endorse a higher truth, what
what it is, he doesn't say.

>Ofcourse in the days of yore when there was a need for taking a
> >strongstand 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.

>>Rather than seeing this in terms of deliberate mistakes for the sake >>of
>>sampradaya or caste based politics, we should allow for deep
>> >>philosophical differences.

As explained, there's hardly much philosophical differences between the
schools. Ofcourse technically there're differences. But the ontological
implication of the MAdhyamika and the ontological affirmation of the
Advaitin cannot be different. And how does NAgArjuna describe his reality -
"quiescence of all plurality". Rings a bell? The ontological implication of
the MAdhyamika's epistemological advaya, is Advaita.

>>Not everything in life is political or sociological. 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.

No, it is not so. For all these "spiritual masters" themselves condemned
intelligence in the end and so wouldn't shy away from using it for their
purpose. "Those who revel in intelligence/knowledge are doomed to the
darkest of worlds - Isha Upanishad". Ethics and inward search beyond the
intellect is what matters most and not "intelligence".

And even if my reconciliation of both schools is wrong, atleast I try to do
it from the standpoint of logic. But by declaring that both the Advaita and
Bauddha realities are different and also stating that you believe in both of
them, you're not even logically consistent.

And my spiritual masters are not the logicians or philosophers - neither
NAgArjuna nor VAsubandhu nor DignAga. They with their incredible intellect
only help in me with jnAna as the means. For jnAna the end, I look towards
the Buddha and Shankara.

>>That everybody said the same thing is the modern dogma.

"Truth is one, the wise express it in many ways", is not a moden dogma.

>>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.

Agreed that they have their technical philosophical differences. But though
their approaches are different, the end reality is the same.
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