Questions on Buddhism (was Re: [Advaita-l] Re: gauDapAda and Sankara)

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at
Mon Jul 31 21:25:05 CDT 2006

As no one has followed up Vidya's posting, I would like to point out
what in my opinion is missing in discussions on this topic.

--- Vidyasankar Sundaresan <svidyasankar at> wrote:


> A
> search of our 
> list archives for threads on Buddhism and Advaita should pull up
> all the 
> relevant older material. Our list has a much wider membership base
> now, so 
> rather than revisit an old discussion with a former member of this
> list, I 
> would look forward to reading fresh perspectives from some of our
> newer list 
> members.

I personally would be very interested in *serious* comparisons
between Buddhism and advaita. This is something everyone wonders
about after reading the GauDapAdIya kArikA and the striking
similarity it bears to Nagarjuna's Mula-Madhayamaka-Karika (MMK).
There are two camps - one suggesting that the two schools are the
same, the other suggesting that GauDapAda is refuting Buddha. Neither
seems very convincing for various reasons.

But the real deficiency in such comparisons overlooks the fact that
Nagarjuna's philosophy has been virtually dead for centuries now, and
understanding Nagarjuna is not easy. The Tibetan or Sri Lankan
Buddhists do not study Nagarjuna in depth, and it is all very
peripheral to their religion anyway. It is also false to state that
someone who says he is following Nagarjuna must indeed be
representing Nagarjuna accurately. Dvaitins will claim to represent
Krishna in the Gita accurately, but advaitins cannot accept that
claim. So just because someone claims he is following Nagarjuna does
not automatically make him the authority on that philosophy. I don't
have time to go into it in detail, but many scholars -- David
Kalupahana in particular -- seem to twist many of Nagarjuna's verses
to suit their own perspective rather than present the case
objectively. The fact that Kalupahana is a Sri Lankan does not imply
that he has the final word on Buddhism.

Here are some fundamental questions that absolutely need to be
answered before anyone begins to compare Buddhism and advaita:

1) Buddhists use a "foud-fold logical system". This consists of the
four categories of being, non-being, neither-being-nor-non-being, and

Question: Why don't Buddhists use the dual logic of "being and
non-being"? In other words, why not the straightforward two-fold
logical system instead of a contrived four-fold one?

Some modern logicians have experimented with three-fold and
higher-fold logic, but the practical usefulness of such logical
systems remains undemonstrated, and such systems are purely for
theoretical purposes. Unless there is some clarification on such
seemingly absurd positions as "both being and non-being", the
philosophy cannot be taken seriously.

I'm certain that there is a good reason for Buddhists to introduce
such a four-fold logical system rather than a two-fold system, for
even GauDapAda specifically mentions the four-fold system. If the
Buddhists were fools to introduce such a system, would GauDapAda have
taken pains to present advaita in terms of (or transcending) this
four-fold system?

2) Right in the middle of his MMK, Nagarjuna says:

Shunyata = Pratitya Samutpada = Madhyamika

Question: What does this (apparently incongruous) equation represent?

This is by far the strangest equation in the MMK if not in all of
Buddhism. It is saying that the VOID, which is usually equated with
non-existence in common parlance, is "dependent arising", which is
exactly the same as the "middle way". Why should the word "VOID" be
used to represent something totally different -- "dependent arising"
-- which is not non-existence? Prima facie, this seems like a
nonsensical choice of words: why should "VOID" be connected with

The basic expectation for the answer to the above question is that it
should not be speculative (any child can offer speculation); rather
it should explain clearly how and why Nagarjuna arrives at that
equation. Unlike most statements by Nagarjuna that are negative in
nature, the above equation is one of the few statements that are
positive, and it is in need of a great deal of explanation.

(One explanation, provided by TMP Mahadevan, is that Nagarjuna is
describing change -- when an entity changes, it is no longer the
entity it was, and has therefore lost its self-nature, making it a
void. This may be so, but Nagarjuna's own shlokas don't directly give
that argument, it is Mahadevan's interpretation of it.)

3) Seldom does Nagarjuna actually refer to the Buddha's own words in
the MMK, but scores of Buddhists claim that the MMK correctly
represents Buddha. This is in complete contrast to other schools
which provide definite references to authority. For example, when
Kumarila Bhatta claims that he follows the Vedas, he freely quotes
from it, and the general tendency of any person is to quote the
authority that he or she follows. The lack of any quotes from the
Buddha's own words makes Nagarjuna's claims of representing Buddha
very dubious.

Question: Is there some good reason to believe that Nagarjuna is
correctly representing Buddha? If so, why are there virtually no
references or quotes to the Buddha in the MMK to justify that claim?
(There are a couple of references to the personage of Buddha, but no
quotes from any of Buddha's sermons).

Without providing crystal clear answers to the above questions,
discussions on comparative studies between Buddhism and advaita
cannot proceed.


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