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 5.7 - Madhyamika Interpretation of Dependent Origination

In the history of Indian Philosophical tradition Buddha’s teachings made a milestone or landmark by his doctrine of middle path which is known as madhyama pratipad. This is Buddha’s theory of Causation and reasoning. Buddha was interpreted by the Nagarjuna. The theory of Dependent Origination, pratitya-samutpada, is presented by all the Buddhists Schools but it is Nagarjuna who interpreted it more emphatically and authentically interpreted than anyone else. And latter it is developed and preached by his disciples and later Mahayana teachers like Aryadeva, Asanga, Chandrakirti etc. It criticized the theory of soul according to the Brahmanical interpretation of the Upanishads and of other systems like Samkya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika and other Theistic Philosophies. Nagarjuna, while analyzing the phenomena of empirical occurrence, critically analyzed and scientifically proved and dialectically revealed the true experience and condemned the monistic theory of Atman and Brahman through his teachings in Mula-Madhyamika-karika.

Thus, Buddha as well as Nagarjuna teach the causal formula of pratitya-samutpada Dependent Origination. Nagarjuna discusses and shows the relativity of the things and its field of momentariness. Nagarjuna establishes that ‘All these are mere concepts rooted in their mutual dependence and hence they cannot describe the real in itself. The task of Philosophy is to show that reality conceived within the relativity field in conceptual, and hence it has no essence of its own, i.e. it is not what it would be in itself (Svabhava Sunya).’[1] By this analysis of the origination and mental apprehension and its psychic experience on the empirical truth, Pandeya observes.

The question as to what is the cause of the relativistic tendency of the mind itself cannot be answered because that involves a state beyond the relativity field and our mind cannot venture in that realism. An unanswerable question is no question. Similarly, the question whether this relativity field is relative also cannot be finally answered because any answer to this would presuppose relativity. Thus, the most consistent position of a philosopher should be to take his experience as a play of interdependent concepts which having no connection with reality are empty. Within the field of relativity emptiness means devoid of content (nairatanya), and nonexistence (abhava). The concepts prevail powerfully upon and obscure the vision of the mind, and hence they are there but are not to be confused with reality (Samvriti Satya).[2] Madhyamika deals with the two truths, Samvriti Satya and the Paramartha Sathya one is empirical truth and the other is relative truth-absolute truth. It is similar to the vyavaharika and paramarthika of Gaudapada. But in the Buddhist concept some interpretation reach the cosmic body of the Buddha as if it is a dharmakaya. It is advaya in another sense of reality for the sake of the disciples and lay monks.

Emphasizing the Buddha’s concept of spirit Nagarjuna re-defines the nondual truth, advaya, which is similar to Advaitin’s Brahman. But only in a negative sense. Final truth is negative conventionality. It is self-realizable quiescent, above speech and mind, Sunyata itself. Sunyata means void or contenless. Voidness is not nothingness or vacuity of thought. It is the truth of perfection of wisdom, Prajnaparamita.

Ajati is the nature of reality which is like Nirvana. In final analysis Nirvana and the world are identical, because for those in state of Nirvana the world in itself is unaffected by transitory and relative experiences. They are above everything and having common characteristics. In the sense of liberation or achievement in the beatitude, the Bodhisattva ideal and Jivanmukta ideal are identical. In deep analysis of the two systems in the ultimate experience and sublimation both are same. Madhyamika uses the word advayajnana and Vedantims use advaita.

Footnotes and references:


R.C. Pandeya, The Madhyamika Philosophy, A New approach, Hawaii, p. 11.


Ibid., 12.

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