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 4.12 - Reality in Advaita (b): Central Doctrine of Advaita Vedanta

The central teaching of Advaita is that there is no difference between Atman and Brahman. This is substantiated by the mahavakya ‘tatvamasi’ from the Candogyopanishad 6-8-7 which means that (tat) you (tvam) are (asi). The entire philosophy of Shankara can be summarized in the famous traditional statement “Brahma satyam jagat mithya, jivobrahmiva na apara” which means Brahman is the true reality, the world of appearances is unreal, and the individual self (jiva) and the universal self (Brahman) are one. This ontological status of the Advaita makes it clear that there is no difference between one jiva with other jiva, and this is called abheda.

Moksha or liberation from the worldly entanglements is the supreme aim of human life. All the Vedantic literatures effectively discuss and emphasize the disciplines of the aspirant or Sadhaka which is known as the Sadhanamarga. It shows four ways of Sadhana to attain the moksha. This is reaffirmed by Shankara in his Brahmasutrabhashya.

They are:

  1. Nityanitya Vastuviveka–prudence to discriminate between what is eternal and what is non-eternal
  2. Ihamutrartha bhoga viraga–ability to give up all desires for enjoyment of objects here and hereafter
  3. Shamadamadi sadhanasampat–control of mind and senses and develop qualities like detachment, patience, power of concentration etc.
  4. Mumukshutva–ardent desire for liberation. [1]

Six fold mental and physical practices to achieve this goal. They are:

  1. Withdrawal of mind from the objects.
  2. Withdrawal of Senses and its objects.
  3. Uparati–Withdrawal from the external objects.
  4. Tithiksha–endurance in the binaries like heat, cold etc.
  5. Shradha–Faith in the supreme reality, Brahman alone.
  6. Samadhana–patience in everything until one reaches the goal of atmajnana.

By qualifying and practicing in a diligent way all these above said injunctions, one can attain Aparokshanubhava. It is the experience of the true nature of the self. It is Atmanubhava. Thus, one can attain or realize jivanmukti.

While discussing the nature of awareness of this realization it is traditional to use an analogy namely dashana tvam asi. This is a story of ten mendicants who were trying to cross a river and in their attempt they got tired. On a point they started to count each one, affected by the fear that someone is missing. But they could not find who was really missing. Each one took his turn in counting, yet they could not find out the missed one. Meanwhile, a stranger came by the way. Seeing the agony of the mendicants he promised his help. He started to count one by one and for their surprise they realized that none was missing. The stranger told them that each of them were counting with the personal exclusion. The unawareness of the existing self or self-forgetfulness was the reason that kept them in the dilemma. This story is used as an analogy to explain that atma vismriti, self-forgetfulness, is the obstacle of liberation. When one transcends it with jnana he attains moksha. When the Jnana arises, the sorrows of life vanish, he who is in steadfast wisdom or stable mind (Sthithaprajna) attains mental equipoise; he attains moksha. Then the fine of atmajnana burns all karmas and kleshas to ashes.

According to Advaita Vedanta, Jnana is the sole means to liberation from samsara. The B.G. tells that all karmas are burned in wisdom. The knowledge of Brahma (brahmajnana) has to be realized as the means of perfection and that is the knowledge of perfect wisdom which in its essence is the knowledge of the identity of Brahman and Atman. This idea is well stated in the Shrutis. For instance, Brihdaranyakopanishad 1:4:10 says, aham brahmasmi which means I am Brahman.[2] It is this realization that the ultimate end of Advaita Vedanta. The goal of man is the attainment of this knowledge, the mystical gnosis of one’s true self, which is the essence of the conscious existence that is the universal substratum of all things. This is at the attainment of this knowledge that one become aware that the Reality behind everything–the individual self and the manifold existence is one and the same.

In the words of J. Thachil it is awareness that:

“the existence of the foundational consciousness which is the transcendental ground of the empirical self is the foundational consciousness which is the transcendental ground of the empirical universe.”[3]

Footnotes and references:


J. Thachil, An Initiation to Indian Philosophy, Pontifical Institute of Theology and Philosophy, Alwaye, 2007, p. 352.


The Upanishad Series, published by Adhyksa, S.R.K.Mutt, Mylapore, p. 59.


J. Thachil, An Initiation to Indian Philosophy, p. 327.

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