Origins of the "double-truth"

Satya Upadhya satya_upadhya at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Dec 20 19:21:36 UTC 2000

Vidyasankar Sundaresan wrote:

>Ah, there lies the crux of the issue. Almost everybody
>who talks of Gaudapada and Sankara as crypto-Buddhists,
>and of Vedanta "stealing" the notion of two truths from
>Buddhism ignores this.
>First, they think zUnyatA is an "Absolute", and equate
>it with the upanishadic brahman. Thus, they completely
>misunderstand Nagarjuna. Next, they criticize Sankara,
>whose criticism of "zUnyavAda" is precisely that it
>does not accept an ontological absolute behind phenomena.
>Thus, they completely misunderstand Sankara too. Having
>committed themselves to this double-error, they now say
>the Vedantin misrepresents the Buddhist, and see his
>criticism as nothing more than an attempt to hide his
>supposed "surreptitious borrowing" of the two truths
>from Buddhism.

--> You do not say who you mean by "they", but let me tell you who "they"
are. By "they", you are referring to S.N. Dasgupta (see his "Indian
idealism" and the 1st vol. of his "History of Indian Philosophy); D.P.
Chattopadhyaya (see his "What is living and what is dead in Indian
Philosophy"); Satkari Mookherjee (see the "Nana-nalanda Mahavira Research
Publications 1957" (of which he is editor); and also his "Budhist Philosophy
of Universal Flux"); Stcherbatsky (see his "Conception of Budhist Nirvana
and "Budhist Logic"); and also, with some reservations,  S.Radhakrishnan
(2nd vol. of his "Indian Philosophy") and B.N.K. Sharma (see the 1st vol. of
his "History of Dvaita school of Vedanta and its literature"). I am sure
there are other scholars who have drawn similar conclusions; this is just a
prelimnary list.

--> Suffice to say ur implication that these scholars have failed to
understand the Advaita and the Mahayana appears to be a little  presumptious
on ur part.

>Ultimately, in Vedanta, to know is to be/become. At
>some stage, epistemology and ontology have to collapse
>together. The Vedanta schools differ on whether it is
>being or becoming that is ontologically sound.

--> The Vedanta schools actually have several differences, ontological and
epistemological (the epistemological differences between dvaita and advaita
are significant). The chief difference, however, lies in the interpretation
of the Upanisads (since there exist "bheda sruti" and "abheda sruti", and
these have to be reconciled).

>Advaitin accepts "realist" epistemology and "idealist"
>ontology. (The quotation marks are important; I use
>these terms with reservations.)

--> Your claim appears to be incorrect. Advaitins are idealistic in both
epistemology and ontology as is agreed by all major writers on Indian
philosophy. (Kindly see the list of writers i mentioned for references to
Advaitist epistemology.)Sankar's Adhyaya bhasya (available as a translation
by Thibaut) contains a description of his epistemology. [I'll e-mail this to
you, if you wish.] For a general denunciation of reasoning itself, kindly
see Sankar's Vedanta bhasya ((ii.1.11)) [ i am personally relying on George
Thibaut's translation of this.]

[ The epistemology of Dvaita Vedanta, however, is realist.]

For the Advaitin, the
>non-dual Brahman is an ontological absolute reality,
>and is itself the paramArtha satya. Important to note,
>however, is that he does not ontologize Brahman via
>"reason", but receives it from "revelation", i.e. the
>upanishads. He cannot and does not rely solely on
>"revelation" as an argument against the Buddhist, but
>according to his lights, the Madhyamaka's refusal to
>accept an ontological absolute leads to nihilism.

--> If by "nihilism", you mean that the Madhyamaka's are atheists, then you
are right. If you believe that they do not subscribe to an Ultimate Reality,
then it would seem you are wrong. See D.P. Chattopadhyaya's "What is living
and what is dead in Indian Philosophy", and S.N. Dasgupta's
"Indian idealism" for more on this.

>according to Buddhist principles, it does not, but that
>is where the mutual debate turns. The Vedantin cannot
>agree with paratantra svabhAva, or pratItya samutpAda,
>or with the Madhyamaka's ultimate equation of saMsAra
>and nirvANa, and presents numerous reasons why he
>rejects these Buddhist concepts.

--> Pratitya samutpada is the law of universal flux; i agree that Advaitists
do not agree with this. They do agree with paratantra, as i will make clear
in a subseq. post. The sunyavadi's way of equating the world with the
ultimate reality is strikingly similar to that of the Advaitists (although i
agree that differences do exist between sunyavada and Advaita, but these are
minor as compared to the similarites between them). Again, see the list of
writers i gave before.

>However, those who say X borrowed from Y, and make this
>as an accusation/judgement, completely miss the point of
>the above old debate, and misunderstand both X and Y.

--> These accusations have been leveled against the Advaita for centuries,
even by other Vedantists (including both the Dvaita Vedantists and
Visistadvaitists). Eminenent modern scholars agree with the accusations.
Surely it is not inappropriate to inquire into the matter.

I hope Hinduism and its schools receive
>the same respect eventually. Non-Indians have to do it
>first, before Indians interested in Indian philosophies
>will accept it.

--> my hope is that other hindu philosophies (Mimansa, Sankhya, Lokayata,
Nyaya-Vaisesik, Dvaita Vedanta, etc.), and not just the Advaita Vedanta,
will be treated with respect eventually.

>Except for the traditional Pundits, a
>highly reviled class nowadays,

--> there is no basis for this claim of yours. I have personally attended a
function at Benaras Hindu University at which a High Court judge gave a
lecture and took part in discussions with the Sanskrit scholars at the
university. (He was talking about the Mimansa principles of interpretations,
and how one could use it in jurisprudence, and more practically, in the
cases before him.)

>most Indians interested
>in these issues do not know enough Sanskrit to read the
>primary texts and make their own conclusions.

--> if this was directed at me, i accept your charge. I do not know
Sanskrit, although i am trying to learn it.

>hey rely
>predominantly on the secondary literature, of which more
>quality work is produced from Europe, USA and Japan, than
>from India.

--> This is a slap in the face on all the genuine scholars in India, who are
working on these issues.

>My take on these issues is easy to dismiss -
>the reaction is that I am "only interested in defending

--> Yes, that is my reaction to what you wrote.

I hope there is some scholar out there, who is
>ready to write on "What is and isn't Advaita Vedanta"!

--> Much work has been done on this by Dasgupta, Chattopadhyaya, Satkari
Mookherjee, Stcherbatsky and others, although i agree that more work needs
to be done on this.


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