This article is closely related to another article about “What is Advaita (Non-Dualism) and What Are the Criteria For A Philosophy To Be Advaita?
At the very outset of this article, i need to clarify one thing. That is, the term ‘Advaitin’ in the heading, does not mean ‘Advaita Vedantin’. There is a philosophical thought stream in India known as ‘Advaita Tradition’. Four philosophical schools are in this tradition (Ref: Chandradhar Sharma’s ‘Advaita Tradition in Indian Philosophy’). On the other hand, when we say ‘Advaita Vedantin’, it means, an adherent of the school of philosophy named ‘Advaita Vedanta’. The Advaita Vedanta philosophical school is surely a member of Advaita Tradition of Indian Philosophy. Advaita Vedanta itself is NOT same as ‘Advaita Tradition of Philosophy’.
The second point, i wish to clarify here is that, this article is the continuation of a previous article on the criteria of Advaita Philosophy. There I had given details of criteria that a philosophical schools must pass to certify as Advaita Philosophy.
It is a common trait in philosophical circles and communities, to consider Advaita Philosophy is equal to Advaita Vedanta. They think that there are no other ‘Advaita’ philosophies in India. In fact, both philosophies of Mahayana (Madhyamaka and Yogacara) are Advaitic, and Kashmir Shaivism (Tantra) is also considered as Advaita, though there are serious arguments against that claim.
Why Buddha Should Be Considered As An Advaitin?
In a previous chapter we have explained the criteria for calling a philosophy as Advaita Philosophy. Let us apply each and every such criteria to Buddha’s philosophy and check whether Buddha was an Advaitin.
1. One and Only One Ultimate Reality.
For any Advaita Philosophy, there would be only ONE Ultimate Reality. Even if they admit pluralities in a relative realm, ultimately they all agree on only Single Ultimate Reality. It is to this Single reality, that Moksha Aspirant will escape from the wheel of Samsara. Had there no such Ultimate Reality, then the moksha aspirant will only continue in the 12 chain of causation, without liberation.
With respect two Buddha this Ultimate Reality is Nirvana. Nirvana is the only Ultimate Reality about which Buddha talked about. There was nothing comparable to Nirvana in Buddha’s teaching. Nirvana is eternal and supreme bliss. Had Nirvana is not eternal, then how can we say that moksha aspirant escaped from the chain of causation.
2. A principle that makes Experiential World inexplicable and Relative Reality
In Indian Philosophy almost all sects talks about ‘Avidya‘ (Anti-Knowledge). Avidya is not the absence of knowledge, but it is anti-knowledge. While knowledge is capable to bring a conviction about Truth in us, the anti-knowledge manipulate the truth and lead us through wrong path. So we need to escape from the clutch of Avidya. Though the default state of human being is liberated, Avidya, which is fortified by the influence of karmic debt, hide our liberated state from us. To realize our default state of mukti / liberation, we need to escape from the clutches of Avidya.
Sri Buddha also admits the presence of Avidya. In the 12 chain of causation, Avidya is the first chain, and from Avidya the entire chain starts. This entire 12 chains is a world of impermanence, relativity, dependent origination and therefore sorrow. As long as someone did not annihilate the Avidya in him/her, by following the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eight Fold Path, he/she will continue to be lead by Avidya and wander in the realm of relativity and will not attain Nirvana.
So, Buddha’s teaching also contains a principle that makes the experiential world inexplicable and relative reality, which is a characteristics of Advaita Philosophy.
3. Unreal Experiential world.
When everything in the experiential world springs from Avidya and since Avidya is a principle that can be destroyed by learning the four noble truths, the summary is that, the experiential world has only a relative reality. This never means that Experiential world has no reality, at all. It is a wrong import of the meaning of Avidya. Avidya never makes something unreal, but it causes something Real to appear as Relatively Real.
Thus wherever Avidya is, there is will two planes of existence. The one is Ultimate Reality plane, and Avidya causes this to appear as a Relative Reality Plane, which is the second level of existence.
In a number of hymns Sri Buddha have emphatically asserted that he h attained a state that is difficult to attain by others. This is a clear message about the two planes of existence, the one which Buddha already attained and the other which is difficult to comprehend by others. One such quote is below –
“These, O brethren, are those other things, profound, difficult to realize, hard to understand, tranquillizing, sweet, not to be grasped by mere logic, subtle, comprehensible only by the wise, which the Tathagata, having himself realized and seen face to face, hath set forth; and it is concerning these that they who would rightly praise the Tathagata in accordance with the truth, should speak.”Brahmajwala Sutta, Dialogues of Buddha, Rhys Davids (Davids 1923:30)
Later Nagarjuna of Madhyamaka Philosophy expanded this to a full fledged doctrine of Saṃvṛti satya and paramārtha Satya. Saṃvṛti-satya, the lower plane of reality and paramārtha Satya, the ultimate.
Thus, Sri Buddha’s teaching are very much in line with the characteristics of Advaita Philosophy. They fulfill every criteria of Advaita tradition. Only One Ultimate Reality, A principle that makes Ultimate to appear as Relative, and the resultant two planes of Reality., all are present in both Buddha’s teachings and Advaita tradition.
Featured image Credit – https://cjselvamani.com/