Antiquity of Advaita Vedanta -- Matavilasa of Mahendravarman

Vishal Agarwal vishalagarwal at HOTMAIL.COM
Sun May 21 16:23:12 CDT 2000

As a side note, I would like to revisit the question: Did pre-Shankaracharya
Aupanishadas and Buddhists themselves notice the close similarity in their
philosophy or not?

The statement of Bhavya (550 CE?) in this regard is well known. For the
information of the list members, I bring their attention to the play
'Matavilasa' of the Pallava King Mahendravarman, who is said to have ruled
around 600 CE or earlier. In line 82 of the play, a character, the Kapalika
accuses the Buddha of stealing his doctrinal ideas from the Mahabharata and
the Vedanta while the ‘Brahmins blinked’. This accusation clearly attests to
the close affinity of Buddhism with the Hindu Mahabharata and Vedanta (of
that time), and is also one of the earliest attested usages of the word
‘Vedanta’ outside the Veda-Brahmana-Itihasa-Purana.

1. Michael Lockwood & A. Vishnu Bhat; King Mahendravarman’s Plays; Tambaram
Research Associates; Madras; 1991


Vishal Agarwal
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>From ADVAITA-L at LISTS.ADVAITA-VEDANTA.ORG Mon May 22 00:13:26 2000
Date: Mon, 22 May 2000 00:13:26 PDT
Reply-To: List for advaita vedanta as taught by Shri Shankara
To: List for advaita vedanta as taught by Shri Shankara
From: nanda chandran <vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject: Antiquity of Advaita Vedanta (was Re: An Open Letter to All)
Comments: To: advaita-l at
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Vidhya writes :
>>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.

Almost the entire Bauddha philosophical quest was a marked attempt against a
mythical reality - like the Self or Purusha as envisaged by schools earlier
than Advaita - which is totally different - an other - from the phenomenal
world. In Advaita Brahman made the world out of itself and the question is
how to distinguish Brahman from its manifestations.

ShUnyata is the emptiness of all our conceptions. With conceptions, the
world is mAyA. The conceptions are the veil - samvritti - which prevents us
from seeing the truth. When our conceptualizing tendency is erased, then it
is quiescence of plurality - paramArtha. That's the reason there's no
ontological difference between samsAra and nirvAna - nirvAna viewed through
thought categories is samsAra. In the epistemological sense both samsAra and
nirvAna are concepts and hence empty or shUnya.

To say there's an ultimate truth - paramArtha - within the boundries of
language and logic itself implies that it exists. But what kind of existence
is that? It cannot be existence as we know it, because existence as we know
it is only through samvritti - mAyA. So NAgArjuna's main point is that one
should not to speculate about it.

To indulge in speculation about the ontological basis of the MAdhyamaka -
like many modern interpreters of MAdhyamaka do - "shUnyatA of shUnyatA" etc
- itself is something that NAgArjuna would have wished to avoid.


Because like Buddha and Shankara he is basically against philosophy. To
speculate and say something "is", is to grasp and cling to it; to say
something "isn't", is to entail the error of nihilism and open oneself to
depression or immorality. To build a philosophical system which escapes both
these extremes itself is NAgArjuna's mission. And hence his destructive
dialectic which itself makes up his system. To understand the nature of the
dialectic is to understand shUnyatA - the emptiness of all empirical
categories, at the end of which the mind stands de-conceptualized and pure.
As Aryadeva says, "to understand the shUnya of one is to understand the
shUnya of all".

This is the essential teaching of the MAdhyamika both logically consistent
as well as well within the warnings of NAgArjuna. To distort this as
"paramArtha itself is shunya or there's no ontological basis for the
MAdhyamaka", will mean logical inconsistency, going against NAgArjuna's
caveats and also make the life of the Buddha who taught a way out of samsAra

>>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.

He has no thesis about the *nature* of reality. If he thought there was no
reality, then how could he be a Bauddha - a follower of SAkhyamuni who spent
forty years teaching the dharma? Insteach He would have been JayarAshi
Bhatta's guru!

>>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.

Apart from Advaita, none of the Astika schools or Jainism, hold that there's
only one single reality. To evolve a philosophy teaching a single reality
and to be logically consistent, the primary criterion is the denial of an
individual Self, for that's what opens up, as NAgArjuna remarks on his
commentary on the PrAjnApAramitA,  the transcendental doctrine. The
plurality of souls as seen in many schools is primarily the inability and
failure to accomodate individuality with salvation - hence an individual
Self which underlies our phenomenal self. Similarly a wrong intepretation of
mAyA in Advaita as an illusion in the normal sense, would only lead to
logical inconsistancy and more dangerous - the eternalization of the Ego -
which would effectively curtail all spiritual progress.

>>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.

ChandrakIrtI's PrasannapadA is the most respected and popular commentary on
the MAdhyamaka ShAstram. He is the prasangika - par excellence. As he
himself notes, to misinterpret the existence issue would push the school's
philosophy into absurdity or nihilism.

>>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?

Unless you want to condemn him for being absurd.

>>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.

GaudapAdAchArya didn't think so. If he thought both schools taught different
realities why would he even try to reconcile Advaita with Buddhism? The
implication of his attack on the fourfold negation is that it is only a
logical problem and if the MAdhyamaka is absolutistic as it should be, if it
has to be logically consistent, he has no problems with it.

>>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.

How that can be is beyond me. I salute your aptitude!

>>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.

With this you've totally confounded me! I thought your initial argument was
that the realities (and not how they perceived it) of the two schools were
different. If we're agreed in that the end reality is the same for both
schools, I've no argument with you.

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