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GaudapAda (was Re: The Theism of the Upanishads)

This continues on the discussion Mani and I have been having here. It has  
long been a criticism of Advaita that it is nothing but Buddhism in  
disguise. It is not necessarily clear in today's circumstances why this  
should be a criticism. After all, mainstream Hinduism has accepted the  
Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu, and the Buddha's teaching is not  
necessarily something to be ashamed of. From a Vaishnavite perspective  
however, it is, because Vishnu is said to have incarnated as the Buddha to  
delude evil-minded people by his teaching. From the point of view of  
theism in general, it is again a serious charge, because Advaita is the  
dominant Vedantic tradition. If it were proved that Advaita is Buddhism  
(which is essentially non-theistic) in disguise, Advaita can no longer  
claim to be representative of a theistic tradition. Also, "Buddhism in  
disguise" raises unpleasant possibilities - because of the disguise, it is  
not fully Buddhism, but because it is Buddhism it is not Vedanta either.  
In Mani's words, "true theism is better served by Visishtadvaita than by  
Advaita." And - "welcome to Visishtadvaita, welcome to Vedanta." 

Two pieces of evidence are cited to "prove" that Advaita is "prachanna  
bauddham". The first is the use of the term mAyA in Advaita. Thus 

Mani -  To further show pure Advaita's origin in Buddhism, take its usage
	of the word "mAyA".  Even adherents of Advaita today accept that
	nowhere in the principal Upanishads, the Gita, and the 
	Brahma-sutras, does the word mAyA appear as used by Advaitins. 

[By pure Advaita, Mani is referring to Sankaracharya's Advaita, not the  
Suddha Advaita system of Vallabhacharya.]

I shall reply to this in a subsequent post. This post concentrates on the  
other basis for this criticism. 

The second "evidence" for the "prachanna bauddham" criticism of Advaita  
uses GaudapAda as its basis. Sankara is the most important figure in  
Advaita, as his works are extensive and serve to define basic Advaita  
tenets today. GaudapAda was Sankara's paramaguru i.e. teacher's teacher.  
The traditional Advaita guru parampara - lineage of gurus - traces Sankara  
through his teacher Govinda to GaudapAda and ultimately to Narayana, God  
Himself. Needless to say, most orthodox Advaitins simply do not care to  
respond to such critics. For them, the question does not arise. GaudapAda  
was an Advaita Vedantin, and fortunately or otherwise, the criticism is  
not worth answering. They just ask their critics to understand Advaita  
well before daring to criticize it. Unfortunately, it is easy to criticize  
what one does not like, whether one understands it or not. Also,  
traditional Advaitins work among relatively isolated scholastic, and  
mostly monastic communities in India, and their work is in Sanskrit. To  
the outside world, it may seem as if the criticism has not been answered,  
and as if Advaita Vedanta is tainted by its perceived association with  

Hence I have tried to treat GaudapAda's work with special attention, to  
the best of my ability. Here, I endeavor to show that GaudapAda 

#1) is an Advaita Vedantin first and last,
#2) is extremely conversant with the Madhyamika system of Buddhism,
#3) uses Madhyamika techniques to finally establish Advaita Vedanta. 

Of these, no one doubts #2, so I shall take it for granted. Mani quotes  
from the GaudapAdIya kArikAs and shows the similarlity to NAgArjuna's  
mAdhyamika kArikAs. That alone proves #2, though of course Mani would take  
that as proof that Advaita is nothing but Buddhism. In #1, everybody again  
agrees that GaudapAda is an Advaitin. Since Gaudapada is seen to be a  
Vedantin over and above being an Advaitin, it is my aim to prove the  
"Vedantin first and last" part. This is immediately seen if #3 is proved. 

To prove #3 however. we need to understand what Buddhism itself is all  
about. Gautama the Buddha himself taught only the "four noble truths" -  
duhkhasatya, samudAyasatya, nirodhasatya and mArgasatya. He refused to  
answer questions such as "Does Atman exist?" or "Does God exist?" His  
silence on this issue is usually taken to be a denial. After the Buddha,  
many schools rose in interpreting his teachings, broadly classifiable as  
the older hinAyAna schools and the later mahAyAna schools. The schools of  
hinAyAna Buddhism are theravAdins, the sarvAstivAdins (sautrAntika and  
vaibhAshika schools) and the andhakas. The Andhakas held the view that  
everything, including the physical body was only mind. They are also  
credited with composing the prajnAparAmitA sutrAs which formed the basic  
scripture of the mahAyAna schools. 

The andhaka school also held that since they were able to continue in the  
meditative state for a long time, vijnAna (consciousness) was not  
necessarily momentary. This conflicted with the original principle that  
everything was momentary. The various mahAyAna schools tried to resolve  
this problem. The vijnAnavAdins, also called YogAchAras, held that 

1) vijnAna was without any determination. 
2) This indeterminateness was called SUnya. 
3) This vijnAna was the Absolute. 

Thus by starting with the principle that everything was momentary,  
Buddhism had arrived at a school which postulated an Absolute. The logical  
question that arose at this point was - is this Absolute eternal? The  
vijnAnavAdins held different views about this matter. For some, the  
question is without meaning, because vijnAna is without any positive  
determinations whatsoever; time being a determinate characteristic,  
eternality cannot be defined for vijnAna. Some other vijnAnavAdins held  
that vijnAna was also momentary, but it was not in the sense of a moment  
in time, but an eternal moment that has no end. 

The next important school of mahAyAna is the MAdhyamika, founded by  
nAgArjuna, a philosopher of great dialectical skill. His skill extended to  
showing that the major tenet of momentariness and even the idea of the  
Buddha himself were all self-contradictory and false. Without going into  
the details of his debates with rival Buddhist schools, it is sufficient  
to note here that he succeeded in establishing the supremacy of his school  
in India, from where it later spread to Tibet, China and Japan. The  
important philosophical entities in MAdhyamika philosophy are SUnya and  
mAyA. Both SUnya and mAyA are defined in his school in terms of the  
four-fold negation - neither Being, nor non-Being, nor neither, nor both.  
NAgArjuna did not like to call SUnya as vijnAna because that meant  
characterization in terms of consciousness. The mAdhyamika school is so  
called because NAgArjuna claimed to represent the Buddha's teaching truly  
- the Buddha is reputed to have said 'That everything exists is one  
extreme; that nothing exists is another; tathAgata teaches the medium  

One can see the gradual development of ideas similar to the Upanishads  
here, though of course the emphasis and the terms used are different. By  
contradicting the original hinAyAna tenet of the momentariness of  
everything, mahAyAna Buddhism had thrown up the idea of the eternal. Thus  
for vijnAnavAda, either vijnAna is eternal by default, or is momentary for  
an eternal moment. In an attempt to save the momentariness of the ultimate  
entity also, vijnAnavAda had come up with the idea of an "eternal moment".  
MAdhyamika on the other hand, came up with the concept of SUnya as the  
ultimate, but this SUnya was neither Being, nor non-Being, nor neither nor  
both. The important point to note is that six to seven centuries after the  
Buddha, by postulating an Absolute eternal, mahAyAna ends up almost  
converting Buddhism into Vedanta. 

In the earlier post of mine, in which I quote the Vishnu PurANa, I quote  
the purANa's note of the basic tenet of Advaita - Brahman is Eternal  
Absolute Existence. Nothing positive and deterministic can be said of this  
Brahman except that It eternally exists, therefore Brahman is Eternal  
Existence. This is a direct consequence of the doctrine of "Neti, neti" in  
the BrihadAraNyaka upanishad, the same upanishad which also goes on to  
affirm the identity of this Brahman with the Atman. 

Along comes GaudapAda, the Advaitin. He notices at once that the  
mAdhyamika argument is but a variant of the Upanishadic argument of Neti,  
neti. The only difference between the Advaitic Absolute and the mAdhyamika  
Absolute is in the definition. Advaita's Absolute, the Brahman is Being.  
MAdhyamika's Absolute, the SUnya is the four-fold negation. The Advaita  
criticism of the mAdhyamika position is that to recognize the four-fold  
negation, one has first to identify Being. Without accepting that there  
exists an entity that is Being, no one can cognize non-Being. The argument  
goes as follows. Non-Being can be said only of non-existent entities, like  
the son of a barren woman or the horns of a hare. Thus non-Being cannot  
give rise to Being. On the other hand, Being is necessary to cognize  
non-Being, for there is a person who recognizes the non-Being. That being  
the case for one of the categories of the four-fold negation, the Absolute  
can only be said to be Being. Without Being, even this four-fold negation  
cannot be recognized. 

That is exactly what GaudapAda sets out to state in his kArikAs. He does  
not need to conduct polemics against other schools of Buddhism, as the  
mAdhyamikAs had already contradicted all earlier schools. This  
contradiction is not just a simple one, for the mAdhyamika school and the  
vijnAnavAda school had both ended up with the category of the Absolute  
Eternal - the category of the Vedanta. All that was now needed to be  
proved was that the Absolute of mAdhyamika needed to be further refined.  
By accepting all the discussions of the mAdhyamika philosophers, but  
pointing out the untenability of the major conclusion of mAdhyamika,  
GaudapAda leaves no choice for mAdhyamika but to convert itself fully to  
Vedanta. GaudapAda does this in the time honored Indian method -  
assimilation instead of conversion. He could have stressed the importance  
of the testimony of the Upanishads to disprove the Buddhists. The plain  
answer of the Buddhist would have been "Your Vedas are not scripture for  
me - therefore you are wrong." This is really an impasse, getting one  
nowhere. Unlike some other religions which tell the rival "My revelation  
is the only one" and attempt to convert him, Hinduism does not force the  
Vedas on anybody. The attempt is to meet the rival on his own ground, and  
see points of similarity. The Bhagavat Gita's assimilation of the Samkhya  
philosophy is a classic case of this. GaudapAda does the exactly similar  
thing with Buddhism in his writing. He would much rather refute the  
Buddhist by using a logic that the Buddhist understands, than claim the  
authority of revelation, something that is totally irrelevant for the  
Mani -	How else can you explain his equation of the dream and waking 
	states, a position characteristic of Vijnanavada Buddhism?

GaudapAda does not so much equate the dreaming and waking states as point  
out their similarity from the paramArtha viewpoint. Similarity is not  
congruence. He also takes care in his first book (called Agama) of the  
kArikAs to define the waking, the dreaming, the deep sleep and the turiya  
states in totally Vedanta terms. The meditation on Om as Brahman is  
extolled - a classically Vedantic doctrine. Throughout the second book  
(vaitathya - unreality), the ultimate Reality of the Self is affirmed by  
using vijnAnavAda techniques. For example, in the kArikAs 1 - 10 of the  
second book, he shows that the objects of the waking and the dreaming  
states are alike as far the ultimate reality is concerned. Because on the  
surface this looks as if he endorses vijnAnavAda, he clarifies his thought  
by using the classically Vedantic doctrine that the Self apparently  
creates the self by the self through its own power. He also mentions  
various fundamentally Vedantic categories - prANa, bhUta, guNa, tattva,  
bhoktr, bhogya etc. in the kArikAs 16 - 30, as the various ways in which  
people know the Self. GaudapAda's grand-disciple Sankara, clarifies the  
situation further. He is not refuting his paramaguru's conclusions; he is  
only taking care to state in unambiguous terms the position of Advaita as  
regards this issue, something that GaudapAda doesn't really need to do as  
far as his major objective is concerned. 

The third book (Advaita - non-duality) sets the basic tenets of Advaita  
Vedanta - as the Upanishads affirm identity between the Atman and Brahman,  
in reality there is no bondage. The Atman is always Brahman, though the  
jIva knows it not. Since Brahman is unborn, the Atman is also unborn. The  
technique of ajAtivAda is used to affirm that the world is one of  
appearances, devoid of ultimate reality. Non-duality can give rise to  
apparent duality and yet remain unaffected. In fact, in this book, the  
argument used is a combination of the spanda technique, which is Saiva in  
origin, with the ajAtivAda. I need hardly quote here the BrihadAraNyaka  
upanishad passage which affirms this highest identity. Visishtadviata and  
other schools of Vedanta still have to account for this unambiguous  
Upanishadic assertion of non-duality satisfactorily. 

The fourth book (alAtaSanti - the peace of the firebrand) shows the  
maximum use of Buddhist techniques. The metaphor of a firebrand being  
waved about and creating an appearance of a circle of fire is admittedly  
Buddhist in origin. However, Buddhists never affirm an eternal Being in  
their ajAtivAda. GaudapAda's use of ajAtivAda assumes the eternal nature  
of Brahman. Again GaudapAda's purpose here is to maintain the eternality  
of Brahman, something the Buddhist does not consider at all. The Buddhist  
uses ajAtivAda for momentariness, GaudapAda uses ajAtivAda to show that  
there has to exist one eternal. Finally the four-fold negation of the  
Buddhist is examined. KArikAs 82 - 86 explain that the Lord (the exact  
word he uses is bhagavAn) is untouched by and above the four-fold  
negation. however, it cannot be said that mAyA is also untouched by this  
four-fold negation. Finally, at the end of it all comes the master coup -  
idam buddhena na bhAshitam - this was not said by the Buddha. 

What was not said by the Buddha? Anything about the dharmas or about  
consciousness! Mani views this to mean -  "the Buddhists are close to us,  
but just need to say a little more"! How much more is that little more!  
And how much it changes the character of Buddhism! It is not a little  
thing, to accept the reality of the very same entity that historically  
Buddhist speculation started by negating. From the Advaita point of view,  
the Buddhists were right in many conclusions they reached, therefore it is  
not wrong to accept those conclusions. Mani thinks "idam buddhena na  
bhAshitam" does not mean a specific contradiction of Buddhist doctrine. I  
would ask him whether he considers the rejection of Euclid's parallel  
postulate by non-Euclidean geomtries "not sufficient contradiction" of  
Euclidean geometry. It is funny that Mani finds "much truth" in Buddhist  
thought, but cannot find any truth in Advaita, and in fact uses "Buddhism  
in disguise" as a criticism of Advaita.  

See what de la Vallee Poussin has to say about GaudapAda's work -  
"GaudapAda does not just use Buddhist works and sayings to adjust them to  
his Vedantic design; nay more, he finds pleasure in double entendre." See  
furthermore what he says about vijnAnavAda itself - "At least in some of  
its ontological characteristics, vijnAnavAda is like Vedantism in  
disguise." (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1900, p. 132) This is  
the very opposite of what Mani is saying. It is not Advaita which has its  
origins in vijnAnavAda or mAdhyamika but a similarity of ontological  
interpretations. The final proof that Buddhism had itself transformed into  
a kind of Vedanta is seen from the description of TathAgata as personal  
God - tathAgata is endowed with power and perfection; he has completely  
eliminated passion and karma and the obscurations of kleSAvaraNa and  
jneyAvaraNa; he is sarvajna, and he is sarvakArajna, having a full  
knowledge of the truth and the empirical world likewise. I have no doubt  
Mani would be perfectly happy with such a description - it is almost  
copied from a description of Vishnu. Thus in addition to accepting an  
Absolute that the hinAyAna schools deny, mAdhyamika Buddhism had come up  
with the idea of the Buddhist equivalent of the Saguna Brahman also.  
Little wonder then that in India itself, the Buddha got assimilated as an  
avatAra of Vishnu. As an aside, this is important to note for those who  
argue that Buddhism was persecuted and driven out from India by the  
"Brahminical Revival". The history of later Buddhism in India is better  
understood as assimilation into the very culture from which it originated,  
rather than as persecution. 

To recapitulate, GaudapAda is not mixing Vedanta and Buddhist ideas, nor  
is he intent on explaining Vedanta according to Buddhism. He is only using  
Buddhist techniques, not Buddhist tenets, to explain Vedanta. Quite  
probably this is an outcome of  his having had to debate with various  
Buddhist philosophers. Thus he uses Buddhist-like arguments to come to  
Vedanta conclusions, thereby contradicting the Buddhists by default. Most  
importantly, he is pointing out by means of his usage of Buddhist  
techniques, that over the centuries Buddhism had itself moved closer and  
closer to Vedanta. That is the full force of "idam buddhena na bhashitam".  
Buddha lived in the 5th cent. B. C., Gaudapada at least a full millenium  
later. He is in fact being extremely subtle in telling the Buddhist, "Over  
this millenium you have been expanding on the Buddha's thought only to end  
up saying what we have been saying all along." 

This represents a philosophical conquest over Buddhism, at least in India.  
The conquest itself was made easy by the development of the mAdhyamika  
school. This school is inherently so close to Vedanta that just one point  
that they conceded to Advaita - the acceptance of Existence as the  
Absolute, turned the tables. GaudapAda did not have to contradict Buddhism  

Both mImAmSA tradition and Buddhist tradition hold Advaita Vedanta  
responsible for the ultimate fizzling out of Buddhism as a separate  
religion in India. Without the advent of GaudapAda and Sankara, the  
Upanishadic religion would have died out in India. KumArila, PrabhAkara  
and Mandana Misra  were very successful in establishing pUrva mImAmSA -  
the philosophy of Vedic ritualism - among the people. Buddhism and this  
ritualism would have been the only major religions worthy of note from the  
point of view of philosophy, if not for Advaita. All other schools of  
Vedanta have defined themselves only in opposition to Advaita. Thus  
Visishtadvaita understands Brahman to be Saguna always and denies the  
ultimate reality of the Nirguna Brahman, bheda-abheda says both Saguna and  
Nirguna Brahman are real and Dvaita relies more on mythology than on the  
Upanishads for its religion. 

My earlier posting on the Vishnu purANa presents irrefutable evidence that  
Advaita as a Vedantic tradition existed prior to GaudapAda and  
independently of Buddhism. Seeing Advaita's origin in Buddhism is seeing  
something that doesn't exist. In fact, Mani's analogy using Sankhya fits  
not at all here. The only difference between Sankhya and the Vedanta is  
the role of prakriti. The only difference between mAdhyAmika Buddhism and  
Vedanta is the existence of the Brahman. Mani is wrong only in his major  
claim. GaudapAda does not derive from Buddhism, the truth is that Buddhism  
itself crystallized into a form that was easily absorbed by the mainstream  
Vedanta. This is not surprising, given the fact that early Buddhism and  
the Upanishads themselves are not far apart from each other in time - they  
developed in the same milieu. Further developments of the two streams of  
thought paralleled one another very closely. Paradoxically, they were so  
parallel, Buddhism merged into Vedanta and lost its separate identity.  
MAdhyamika Buddhism is the official school of Tibetan Buddhism, and the  
Dalai Lama himself agreed recently that his school was very close to  
Vedanta, except for accepting the reality of the Atman. On deeper  
reflection, this is nothing more than just a similarity, because the  
reality of the Atman is the most important tenet of Advaita - Brahma  
satyam; ayamAtmA Brahma. 


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