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 3 - Advaita In The Mandukya-Karika

In the stream of Indian philosophical and religious thought we see various currents joining and flowing in a torrential way. Philosophical systems contain religious thoughts and instructions becoming part of the life of the common man. Religions are rooted in philosophy. In the streams of philosophy, we see rocky cliffs and edifices that are the sages and rishis who lived in India, in the past. They have contributed their experiences into the philosophy and to the human welfare of humanity as a whole. Philosophy according to Gaudapada and Shankara is an interpretation of the totality of human experience or of the whole of life from the stand point of truth. Philosophy therefore, is the whole of which religion, mysticism, yoga, theology, arts and sciences are but parts.[1]

Shankara, Gaudapada’s great grand disciple developed systematic and scientific interpretation of the Vedanta doctrine. Gaudapada’s Karika namely ‘Gaudapadiya Karika’ (hereafter GK) provided a strong foundation on which Shankara and his successors, and later Vedantic philosophers interpreted and re-interpreted the analytical exposition of the Advaita theory.

“Shankara, the spiritual successor of Gaudapada, not only propounded the mayavada adumbrated by his paramaguru, Gaudapada, but expounded, promulgated, framed and established, the same by his acute intellectual power, unparalleled expository skill and relentless logical reasoning”.[2]

Gaudapada makes use of Upanishadic, Buddhistic and other Shrutis to emphasize his doctrine of Advaita in an unparalleled way. Gaudapada was the first to make the fullest use of the doctrine of the three states viz. waking, dreaming and deep-sleep; described in the Brihadaranya Upanishad and Chandogya Upanishad for the purpose of establishing Advaita.[3]

Advaita being the highest reality, Dvaita can be based on advaitic through advaitin encompasses all the dualistic ideas and manifestations and phenomenal appearances in the worldly experiences by the world. Gaudapada analyses and establishes the three states of experiences in an elaborate manner. This leads Gaudapada to declare that the highest reality, can only be the fourth or ‘Turiya’ beyond the three states non-originated same and uncontaminated. The nature of this Turiya, as a sakshin or witness in all experiences in the three states, was further dilated upon by Shankara and his successors.[4]

Many philosophers and Vedantims argue that Gaudapada was a Buddhist and that he was influenced by Buddhist ideas and their analytical arguments to ordain the metaphysical as well as phenomenal appearances.

“Gaudapada had studied the Buddhist philosophical works and he agrees with the Vijnanavadims that external objects are illusory and the vijnana alone matters for producing our experiences but the parts company with them”.[5]

Buddhist Vijnanavada and Yogacara philosophy (Madhyamika Buddhism) of Kshanikavada (momentariness) establishes about the Shunyavada doctrine. Here we see both Buddhists and Advaitins are unable to explain the apparent illusory nature of the world and really real nature of the Absolute. So, both systems are, helpless to define the ultimate reality (Paramartha satya) in a definite and clear way. It is humorous that one who tries to cross the ocean of Vedanta philosophy by a small udupa (single boat). The analysing and synthesizing of the Indian philosophy with its major two branches, namely the atheistic trend of Mahayana (Madhyamika) Buddhism and the theistic (even meta-theistic) trend of Advaita Vedanta (Atman-Brahman) is a question of inquiry into the reasoning mind of a student.

Footnotes and references:


Swami Prabhavananda, ‘Spiritual Heritage of India’, p. 1.


Raghunath Damodar Karmarkar, ‘Gaudapadakarika’, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona, 1973, p. 48.


Ibid. p. 41


Ibid. p. 41


Ibid. p. 52

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