Upanishads, MahAyAna, Advaita

Balaji Hebbar bhebbar at EROLS.COM
Sun Feb 14 02:08:41 UTC 1999

Nanda  Chandran  wrote:
"I don't think the MAdhyamika would fall in that category. The
VaibhAshikas and SautrAntikas are the realists who insist on the
existence of the outside world independent of consciousness. For the
former only the underlying elements of existence (dharma) is real. The
latter insist everything including the dharmas are momentary. The
Yogacarins (VijnAnavAdins) deny the empirical world and insist that
consciousness is all (sarvam buddhimayam jagat). The MAdhyamikas or the
ShUnyavAdins deny ultimate reality to both the empirical world and the
consciousness, which perceives it, since both exist only in relation to
each other. They are as their name indicates - the Middle Way."

I  agree.  (B.N.Hebbar)  Also,  I  would  like  to  add  that  even
within  the  YogacArins,  it  is  only  Vasubandhu's  "version"  that
is  closest  to  Shankara's  Advaita.  The  Svatantra-VijnAnavAda  of
Dinnaga, DharmakIrti  etc.  fall  back  on  the  old  momentariness
doctrine  and  it  is  this  "version"  of  YogAcara  that  Shankara
criticizes  in  his  comm. on  the  BrahmasUtras. (B.N.Hebbar)

Nanda  Chandran  wrote:
"The Upanishads also decry all difference. So if these theories are
taken to their logical conclusion, we have Advaitam, which insists
BrAhman alone is real and all difference is unreal (mithyam)."

I  disagree.  To  say  that  the  Upanishads  teach  AdvaitavAda
uniformly  is  purely  a  subjective  opinion.  It  all  depends  on
the  interpretation.  As  objective  scholars  we  should  not  tow  any
"party  line".  The  RAmAnujite  and  Madhvite  interpretations  of  the
Upanishads  (to  say  the  least)  have  shown  us  all  too  well  that
the  Advaitic  interpretation  is  by  no  means  the  only  "valid
official"  interpretation.  I  am  NOT  saying  that  RAmAnuja  or
Madhva  are  right  and  Shankara  is  wrong.  Only  that,  as  true
Indologists  we  MUST  accept  all  reasonable  interpretations  as
possibilities.  Therefore,  the  Advaitic  system  as  far  as  it  can
be  traced,  with  some  historical  validity,  begins  with  GauDapAda
at  best  and  NOT  with  the  Upanishads  or  the  other  two
prasthAnas.  That  is  precisely  what  VedAntic  scholasticism  is  all
about.  I,  together  with  my  panDit  teacher,  have  attended
several  tarkasabhAs  in  India  where  the  traditional  panDit
community  from  all  three  principal  schools  of  VedAnta  have
extensively  argued  for  several  days  on  "goodies"  like  "Tat  tvam
asi",  "Sarvam  khalv  idam  brahma",  "neha  nana'sti  kincana"  etc.
All  I  can  say  is  that  neither  is  the  problem  an  easy  one
nor  the  solution. Each  sticks  to  his  school  of  thought  with
great  resourcefulness  and  tenacity. However, all  leave  the  sabhA
in  peace  and  friendship!!!  This  has  happened  over  the
centuries. And  it  is  this  that  must  be  admired.  Even  the
royalty  in  the  ancient  times  who  patronized  these  scholars
politely  (and  rightly  so,  in  my  opinion)  remained  neutral  when
these  tarkas  took  place  in  their  courts.  On  such  example  was
the  reigning  NAyak  of  Tanjore  in  the  1500s  had  Appayya
DIkshita  (Advaita),  TAtAcArya  (VishiShTAdvaita)  and  VijayIndra
TIrtha  (Dvaita)  in  his  court.  At  the  end  of  the  debate  the
king  (it  is  said)  remarked:  "how  can  I  choose  between  the
three  Vedic  fires?"  In  this  light,  Nanda  Chandran's  words:

"So it may be that it's actually VijnAnavAda, which is prachanna VedAnta
and not the other way around."

cannot  be  accepted.  By  the  way,  it  was  BhAskara  (the  only
major  non-VaishNava  commentator  of  the  BrahmasUtras,  besides
Shankara)  who  said  that  Shankara  was  a  pracchanna  Bauddha.


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