Mahayana Buddhism and Early Advaita Vedanta (Study)

by Asokan N. | 2018 | 48,955 words

This thesis is called: Mahayana Buddhism And Early Advaita Vedanta A Critical Study. It shows how Buddhism (especially Mahayana) was assimilated into Vedantic theorisation in due course of time. Philosophical distance between Mahayana Buddhism and Advaita-Vedanta became minimal with the advent of Gaudapada and Shankaracharya, who were both harbinge...

Chapter 1.6 - The Karika of Gaudapada

Gaudapadiya-karika consists of 215 (two hundred and fifteen) karikas or couplets and have four chapters. The central conception of Gaudapada’s philosophy is Ajati-nothing is born. The self is the only reality, the Absolute (Brahman) alone is real-all else is an appearance, illusion, maya, non-real. All appearances are an empirical phenomenon and it is the result of maya. The super truth is Advaita (non-dual). The nature of maya is the illusory manifestation or transfiguration only. Reality appears as the pluralistic universe through its own maya, atmamaya. This phenomenal world is the projection of maya. It is like dream content appearing as true and real. Things ‘appear’ only from the standpoint of empirical level. It is called Samvrittisatya. Therefore, they have no permanence. Gaudapada talks about Samvrittisatya and Paramathasatya.

Absolute reality is one that is Brahman;it is Advaita. In the Advaitic view the purpose of soteriology (mokshashastra) is to enable the aspirant to cross the sea of samsara. It is the human goal according to almost all the Vedantic systems, including Advaita Vedanta. When the aspirant’s false vision is destroyed by the true knowledge (Atmavidya) one gets realization, moksha. Attachment to non-real is responsible for the illusory wanderings on wilderness of samsara, worldly pleasures, and desires of empirical (varieties) things that deludes the mind. The discipline to be followed recommends the path to a right livelihood and right living. The ways instructed by the sciences and allied subjects purifies the mind leading to the right path.

The Shastra recommends sadhana-catushtaya and sat-sampathi when one purified by these sadhana or spiritual disciplines he attains moksha. It is the aim of the Atma-vidya. Gaudapada teaches two paths to realize non-dual reality. One is described in Chapter I as ‘Pranavopasana’. And the other one is described in Chapter IV as ‘Asparshayoga’-yoga without contact. The chief sources of Gaudapada’s thought are brought out from Brihdaranyaka Upanishad- 4.4.19. Another major adaptation of the idea is from Chandogya Upanishad- 7.7.7. Again, he developed his ideas from the Upanishadic sources like Taittiriya Upanishad (layers of atma or avarana or sheaths) Isha Upanishad, Bhagavat-gita etc. It has been noted that Gaudapada’s philosophy developed from Upanishadic sources and other pre-Vedantic literature and Buddhism. The Gaudapadiya-karika became the foundation for the Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta.

Thus, Gaudapada’s thought is important for the researcher on Vedantic studies and for later philosophies. Gaudapada as an Upanishadic teacher made a foreground for the Shankara’s Vedanta. This shows that Gaudapada emphasizes Vedantic philosophy by the Upanishadic wisdom but use the dialectics of Mahayana and other Buddhist teachers like Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, and others. So, Buddhist Madhyamika philosophy played a central role in the development of Advaita Vedanta.

To give a small summary of the thinking of Gaudapada we may say that he believes that non-dual self is the sole reality and the world of plurality is an illusionary appearance being the product of maya. He makes his position clear even in the first prakarana, where through reason (tarka), he established that universe does not really exist. The pluralistic world cease to be, if it had any existence. There is no removal of the world, because it has no reality. Real alone is existent and not the non-real. Even during the time of the delusion of rope-snake, the snake does not exist in the rope, nor is it really removed, when the error is corrected. The world also, like the snake, though it appears does not truly exist. It is maya-matra or mere illusion.

Gaudapada employs various expression such as maya, vaitathya, mithya, kalpita, abhasa, viparyaya, samurti etc. to indicate the illusory nature of the universe and its things. It is maya which is responsible for worldillusion. It veils the real self and produces the non-real world. Maya does not exist for one who has the intuition of the Brahman. The second prakarana which aims to establish the illusion of the world of names and forms is significantly called vaitathya. Upanishad Brahmendrayogin explains the meaning of world vaitathya as follows: Absolute Brahman is tatha because it ever exists in its nature without anything opposed to it. What is not thus, i.e the world is unreal (asat) or vitatha. According to Shankaracarya, the nature of the being vitatha is vaitathya, unreality. The form mithya also has the same meaning. The world is illusory, being erroneously energised, hence it is characterized as mithya. It is what is wrongly imagined (kalpita), an appearance (abhasa), it's perception is an error (viparyaya. As contrasted with the absolute reality Brahman, the reality attributed to the universe is relative or empirical (vyavaharika or samrta). It appears real only till we do. It look beyond or deeper.

Now, it may be asked what is the agency which causes the illusory appearance of the universe. Gaudapada gives three answers in this connection which together is taken as the Advaita view:

  1. the self-images itself through itself by the power of maya,
  2. the self becomes different through maya.

The world is vibration of mind; it is perceived by the mind. Thus, the self, maya and mind are believed to be responsible for the manifestation of the universe. But the self is unchanging and eternal; and it cannot by itself cause or manifest anything. Hence it is stated to be the ground of apparent manifestation of the world through maya. Hence Gaudapada says: 'the self -effulgent self imagines the self by the self through its own maya' and 'though the unborn self seems variously born through maya". In fact, the birth of real is intelligible only through maya and not in reality. Reality or self in itself is no cause at all. It is the self as conditioned by the maya that is the cause of the world Brahman or the self-conditioned as such is called Isvara or god. He is both the efficient or the material cause of the universe. He is referred as the lower Brahman (apara brahma). It is this supreme lord (prahu) the creates the external things and the internal modes. The entire universe is a display of his maya by which he seems to be deluded. The third factor responsible for world-creation is mind. In some places Gaudapada uses it to signify the self. Third in this sense is the bound of the world as conditioned by maya. As such, it is not the same factor by the same as the first. The other sense in which the world, mind, is more commonly used is the anahkarna or the internal organ which is the adjunct (upadhi) of the jiva or the individual self. What constitutes jivatva (jivahood) is conditioning of the self by mind and it is this conditioning or the limitations that brings about apparent perception and enjoyment of the world by the individual soul.

Gaudapada refers to six rival views of creation in the first prakarana. They are:

  1. creation is the expression of the Iswara's lordly power (vibhuti), i.e manifestation of his powers.
  2. the creation of the same nature as dream or magic. This view differs from the Advaita position in believing that dream is true so far as it reflects the phenomenal realities of the waking state and the incantation etc. conjuring up magical illusions, are themselves empirically true, though the magic is false.
  3. the creation is mere will of The Lord because this will is unfailing.
  4. the creation results from time alone.
  5. the creation is for the enjoyment of the God and
  6. the creation is the sake of the God's sport.

Gaudapada dispenses all these theories and puts forward his own (Advaita) theory that creation is God's very nature (svabhava) or maya i.e. illusion. The self cannot become universe in reality. It is perfect in itself and therefore it cannot have any purpose or motive behind the creation. Time cannot create the universe which consist if not only non-intelligent things but also intelligent beings. The creation is therefore only an illusory appearance of the self. As a piece of rope, observes Anadagiri, appears in the form of snake etc. due to ignorance alone characterised as it's nature (svabhava), even so the absolute self appears as it were in the form of ether etc. associated with its power known as the maya.

The world is an illusory as the snake superimposed on rope. It's existence like the existence of city in sky. In the Alatasanti-prakarana, Gaudapada employs the analogy of firebrand (alata) to explain the illusoriness of the world. As afire-brand when in motion appears as straight, crooked etc. so also consciousness when in liberation appears as the perceiver and the perceived etc. and just as the unmoving fire brand is free from all appearances and remain changeless. Similarly, when the consciousness is not in vibration, it is free from all appearances and remains changeless. The appearances in a moving firebrand are not produced by anything else; and when the firebrand does not move, the appearance does not go anywhere from it, nor do they enter into it. Similarly, the worldly phenomena is not produced by anything other than consciousness, nor do they rest in anything else, nor do they enter into it, nor do they go out of it. They are mere appearances.'As it is not possible to explain how consciousness is the cause of appearance and appearances it's effect, they (appearances) can never be described and such they are only illusory. The objects that constitute the world of the cognizer and the cognised are nonreal, but they appear as real. Their birth, substance and dissolution are all imagined. They appear to be many but are not really so. They are neither identical with the self nor are different from it. The world is thus illusory and its appearance is liked that of illusory rope-snake or fiery-circle.

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