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

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Sat May 20 02:07:59 CDT 2000

On Thu, 18 May 2000 07:02:36 PDT, nanda chandran <vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:

>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.

See, this is sAdhya-sama. From Nagarjuna's perspective, you are assuming
that there is a something called paramArtha, and that understading the
SUnyatA of things is another thing. And then you conclude that therefore
there is a thing called paramArtha.

>Then why do you think NAgArjuna even talks of two levels of truth - the
>samvritti satyam and the paramArtha satyam? ShUnyam itself falls under
>conception and thus cannot be equated with the ParamArtha. TathatA is
>"suchness" or the thing in itself as explained by the PrAjnApAramitA texts

Do the prajnApAramitA texts say that this tathatA is the same everywhere and
at all times, that it is an unconditioned absolute? And if the paramArtha
truth is something other than the understanding of SUnyatA, what is samvRtti
then? So, are there three things now, samvRtti, SUnyatA and paramArtha?

>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.

Clearly, that is how the Vedantins and the Buddhists conceived it. This is
probably what taittirIya upanishad 2.7 means, when it says, asann eva sa
bhavati etc.

>>>The correct Buddhist answer to this would be, "To say that paramArtha
>>>exists, as a thing in itself, beyond human conception, is itself a
>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.

No. By remaining silent, he says that he neither endorses it nor denies it.
Nagarjuna also explicitly says that he has no ultimate thesis of his own to
propound. So again, there is more to it than logical quibbling.

>>>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

Again, no. Absolutism does not have to mean monism or non-dualism.
Vaiseshikas had their absolutes, in the paramANus. Samkhya as well as Yoga
had their absolutes, purusha and prakRti. For the Mimamsakas, you could
label the apaurusheya Vedas as their absolute. And there would have
certainly been Aupanishadas, the proto-Vedantins, who had Brahman for their
absolute, whether in a saguNa or in a nirguNa sense, and whether in a
advaita or in a bhedAbheda sense.

>>>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.

Read above, he neither endorses nor denies an ultimate reality. So he
wouldn't agree that his stance would lead to nihilism, but that does not
mean that it would lead to absolutism either.

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

What is the issue here? Is it the intelligibility of something that exists?
Or is it existence itself? Is it existence of a thing, or is it Existence
with a capital E? Does such a thing as Existence with a capital E even make
sense for Nagarjuna's teaching?

>>>*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,

And that is precisely why his is the minority opinion in Buddhism, with all
the later authors criticizing Chandrakirti for it, and for misunderstanding
Nagarjuna totally.

>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.

So now it is only the Buddhist who is indulging in logical quibbling? I
thought both Vedantins and Buddhists were, in criticizing each other.
Besides, by the time Sankara and Advaita emerged, Buddhism had at least 1200
years of tradition behind it.

>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
>beyond shUnyam is the higher truth. So he does endorse a higher truth, what
>what it is, he doesn't say.

Nihilism may be the wrong interpretation of SUnyatA, under Nagarjuna's
logic. But so would absolutism, or eternalism, if you prefer to call it
that. That there is a higher truth does not make it an absolute/eternal for

>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.

I'm quite aware that Nagarjuna uses the term prapancopaSama. But the
question is, does Madhyamaka imply anything ontologically at all? Aren't you
thrusting a Vedantic ontology upon him?

>>>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
>>>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".

Granted the ethics and inward search are what matter practically. But
precisely because of that, we can allow for the fact that even if it is
the same, the fruit of the inward search gets reflected differently in
different buddhis. And we can also allow for the fact that the fruit of the
inward search might indeed be different. We won't know unless we have the
same experiential knowledge from both sides and certitude that they are the
same. That is an extremely tough call.

>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
>them, you're not even logically consistent.

No, I don't say that I believe "in" both of the realities. But I can respect
a reality that I don't believe in, even if I believe that it is different
from the one that I do believe in, and even if the actual difference between
them is only a matter of my belief that they are different.

>>>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.

If the wise express it in many ways, that hardly amounts to their saying the
same thing. My statement about the modern dogma does not deny that Truth is
one. The Truth can be one, but whether everybody sees it that way is a big
question. I think all the similarities and differences and mutual influences
between the two systems lie in the details of the argumentation, which
cannot be dismissed as logical quibbling.


bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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