Why this quiz at all? At any rate who stuck that label on Sankara l And Why?
Here you are. His rival, bhaskarAchArya called him as such and so did madhvaAchArya and his disciples, among others.
But why on earth would they wish to paint Sankara with the Buddhistic brush? Besides, there are two great divisions of Buddhism viz the mahAyAna and the hInayAna; which of the two do they accuse Sankara of canvassing surreptitious support for?
To answer the second question first; it is the mahAyAna schoolof Buddhism in general and Nagarjuna’s shUnya vAda in particular, of which they think, Sankara was a ‘secret Agent’ Before answering the question ‘why they thought so ’ , it would be better to state exactly what they had to say against Sankara.
Bhaskara, who wrote a commentary on the vedAnta sUtra of bAdarAyaNa was a staunch advocate of what was known as bhedAbheda vAda (the doctrine of ‘identity cum difference’) which Sankara rubbished as self-discrepant and upheld abheda non-difference as ultimate. This was what Bhaskara had to say about the adherents of the ‘Sankara system of thought’ “vigItaM ucChinnamUlaM mAhAyAnikabauddhagAthitam mAyAvAdam vyAvarNayanto lokAn vyAmohayanti” meaning that Sankara’s mAyAvAda, is worthy of censure, is baseless,was already bro-adcast by the mahAyAna Buddhism and these mAyAvAdins are out to deceive people by glorifying this false doctrine.That was how the bhedAbhedavAdin Bhaskara returned the compliment to his abhedavAdin counterpart Sankara. Now let us see what madhvAchArya, who is a champion of radical ‘difference’ (bheda vAda) had to say on Sankara’s advaita . Legend has it that Madhva was the Wind-God (vAyu) incarnated for the purpose of destroying the advaita doctrine Madhva sees no difference between the attribute-less nirguNabrahman of Sankara and the shUnya of the Buddhist. “yat shUnyavAdinaH shUnyam tadeva brahma mAyinaH” . thus spake Madhva in his anubhAShya on the Vedanta Sutra II.ii.29 It means that the Advaitin’s Brahman is the self-same shUnya or the Void of the Nihilist. Narayana pandita, who was Madhva’s biographer described Sankara’s foloowers as pracChanna bouddhaH (disguised Buddhists)
Now, rivalry among competing philosophical schools alone cannot explain away these charges completely There must be some similarity, be it never so seeming or superficial between Nagarjuna the Nihilist and Sankara the Non-dualist. Let us now pay some attention to the common ground between the advaita of Sankara and the xaNikaviGYAna vAda wnich Nagarjuna represents. Both the systems posit two realities Empirical Reality and Ultimate Truth. For Sankara they are vyAvahArika satya and pAramArthika satya and for Nagarjuna they are samvRRiti satya and pariniShpanna satya Cf.mAdhyamika kArika of Nagarjuna (24-492) dve vidye samupAshritya. bauddhAnAm dharmadeshanA. Loke samvRRitisatyaM ca. satyam ca paramArthatah.. These obverse and reverse sides of the same coin are apprehended differently from two different viewpoints, namely the logical and the mystical. But logic, no matter how intricate one might make it. can settle the nature of the ultimate Truth with the same self-validating certitude of mystic apprehension We find this dual postulation in the Being and Non-being of Parmenidis; Opinion and Truth in Plato; Appearance and Reality in Bradley; Intellect and Inruition in Bergson; or this-ness and that-ness in Buddhism. Being adepts in the dialectic methodology all of them concluded that mere discursory logic can at best be only indicative and not self-certifying like that of mystic Revelation-(shruti) Cf.Sankara’s commentary on Vedanta Sutra II.i.11 Nagarjuna being a Buddhist is expressly distrustful of vedic Revelation. which for the Advaitins served as a check on unbridled speculation. Bereft of the ‘checks and balances’ of shruti Nagarjuna’s logic leads him to “utter momentariness and utter nothingness of thought which is what the Xanika viGYAna vAda implies. Looking at only the seeming resemblance of the two systems and unwilling to discern the metaphysical subtlety between Sankara’s Revelation-oriented Reasoning and Nagarjuna’s zeal for intrepidly reaching out to where his Reason led him, Sankara’s detractors had branded him a Crypto-uddhist
Agreed; but surely the modern scholars endowed with greater catholicity of outlook must be more discerning than the votaries of the orthodox schools. What has later research to say on this issue?
Well ! The modernists feel that the boot is on the other leg; that means, Instead of sticking the Crypto-Buddhist label on Sankara we must now be prepared to call Nagarjuna a Crypto-Advaitin. Modern research reveals that Nagarjuna has a positive side to his metaphysics-the mystic dimension. His ‘Void’ is not entirely Nothingness . Yamakami, the Japanese Buddhist interprets shUnya / void as meaning that “there is no process or change (in it) ashAshvatam-anucChedam-anAgamam-anirgamam; it is chatushkoti vinirmmuktam, dispossessed of any of the four-fold definable characteristics. The mystic element is evident in the references to “seeing visions pf the Buddha and the TathAgatas. dhyAna or the mode of meditation is preached as tathAgatAlambana with the Buddha as the object of meditation which, professor Ranade says, is similar to the aham brahmAsmi of Advaita. Besides, Nagarjuna idolised and introduced litany and ritual worship of Buddha which incidentally was not encouraged by the Lord Himself. In Nagarjuna one finds the reality of the One and he unreality of the many. Santideva his ardent disciple carried on his Master’s teaching but after him. As Wintetmitz says, Buddhism was absorbed in Hinduism. Well and truly has it been said that Sankara killed Buddhism with a ‘fraternal embrace’.
Has Sankara refuted the Buddhistic doctrine at least to extricate himself from the charge of Crypto-Buddhism? Has he condemned it summarily any where? And how does one explain the praise he showered on Lord Buddha in the following verse:
niyamyAnalam nyasta nAsAgra dRRiShTiH.
ya Aste kalau yoginAM chakravartI.
sa buddhaH prabuddho.astu maccittavartI..
Let that awakened Buddha abide in my heart, that Emperor of Yogis of this era who is firmly seated in the ‘lotus posture’ with his gaze fixed on the tip of his nose (absorbed in meditation).
Well, this charge of praise can be easily disposed of as it is a stupid question. One ought to praise all the praiseworthy Masters irreespedtive of their creeds, climes or times. Sankara had done just that; there is no need to read between the lines in that. Coming to the question of Sankara’s refutation of the Buddhistic doctrine that consciousness is an incessant succession of momentary ideas (santAna) , and that physical objects are mere aggregations of ever-changing atoms (sanghAta) , We have only to look at his commentary on the Vedanta Sutra II.ii.31- xanikatvAccha where he scathingly attacked their theory, smacking of Subjective Idealism, He contends that there must be a stable substratum on which there can be a play of unstable change; logical it is a logical necessity. The Buddhist contends that objects perceived in dreams as well as in the waking state are equally mental projections with no objective things as their real counterparts –they are merely projected ‘as though’ they are external. Sankara asks “what is this as though?” If there were no real external objects how can they be simulated? The fact of the matter is that we are aware of not just perception but of the objects of perception. This is a significant departure from Buddhist speculation. Again, the Buddhist view that both waking and dreaming experiences are similar because both are caused by (samskAra. S) mental impressions stored in memory. Sankara states that there is a qualitative difference between them in that the dream experiences are negated in the waking state but the latter are not; he goes to the extent of saying the waking experiences are never negated. He thus provides a modicum of realism to the external world. His mAyA vAda as opposed to the Buddhist’s shUnya vAda enables him to do so. mAyA is a transformational power causing the Absolute unitary Truth Atman to appear as multiform lesser reality of the world. The shuunyam on the other hand is their Truth itself and not an intermediary link of transformation, real or apparent. The Buddhist has no such Absolute Reality to fall back upon to explain metaphysical conundrums. Thus, Sankara counters their realism with his idealism and their idealism with his realism.
But Nagarjuna’s samvRRiti satyam is the same as Sankara’s vyAvahArika satyam –unreal.
No! and this is important. Sankara’s universe was not unreal like the Buddhist’s; it is less real than the absolute Brahman / Atman. The world depends on Brahman for its manifestation and not vice versa . The former can do without the latter but the world cannot do without Brahman. This one-sided dependence of the world, is what is brought out by the term mAyA
At all events it is clear that Sankara leaves sufficient space for realism in his otherwise idealistic system of thought, to serve the purposes of the empirical world, because, it is in and through this serviceable world that one has to struggle one’s way towards salvation. After all virtue cannot be practiced in a vacuum. The pariNAma vAda , which lays down that the world of manifestation is a ‘real’ transformation of Brahman vouchsafes full reality to the world of common experience but in the process swallows up brhman entirely, because there cannot be partial transformation in a partless entity. ‘You cannot have one half the fowl for the dining table and the other half for laying eggs’ as it is said. Sankara therefore adopted the vivaarta vAda or apparent transformation of Brahman as the manifest universe, thus leaving his Absolute Brahman all in one piece, On the other hand he could not allow excessive idealism to lapse in to the pessimistic sarvam xanikam sarvam duHkham (every thing is mmomentary, every thing is misery) doctrine of the Nihilist These two are the Scylla (the dangerous rock) and the Charybdes (the whirlpool) between which Sankara had to navigate and steer clear of. The Vedanta Sutra (II.i.26) states this very dilemma; it reads “kRRitsnaprasaktiH niravayatva sabda kopo vA” It means, If Brahman is assumed as the material cause of this universe then, Brahman would have to completely, cease to be, after the transformation, and if such is assumed scripture declaring Brahman to be indivisible will stand violated. This is therefore a crux and the answer to it is provided by bAdarAyana himself in his very next sUtra “shrutestu sabdamUlatvAt (such matters are to be settled by an appeal to scriptural Testimony as it is based on intuited immediate experience *(shabDa) which is the final court of appeal. And its verdict puts a full stop to all vexatious dialectics This is exactly the position which Sankara takes and buttresses his stand employing shrutyanukUla tarka – scripture-friendly logic. That explains his mAyAvAda which explains the world as anirvachanIya – which Professor Hiriyanna prefers to translate as ‘not self-explanatory’ and not unreal.
In the light of the foregoing discussion the conclusion would therefore be that, neither was Sankara a CryptoBuddhist nor was Nagarjuna a Crypto-Advaitin. Each was unique in his own way. Nagarjuna’s school is known as mAdhyamaka the golden mean. He accepted the eight-fold path of the Buddha. Aristotle is famous for his golden mean but on that account no one can label Aristotlle a crypto-Buddhist. Sankara was a full-blooded vedAntin and Nagarjuna an equally full-blooded Buddhist. Both were products of their times and the philosophical mileu in which they lived. Buddhism has done away with the Atman of the Upanishads by their nairAtmya vAda (no soul - no oversoul doctrine). Sankara by his AtmAdvaita vAda has wrested , rescued and restored it back to its pristine glory and seated It once again on its majestic throne of vedAnta.. Subsequent thinkers on vedAnta only embellished and bedecked it with well -crafted ornamentations of theism. The least service that one ought to be doing to such a great benefactor of ancient Indian thought, as Sankara, is to refrain from maligning him with spurious and specious appellations and use them as sticks to beat his system with. There is already a justifiable agony among scholars that Sankara’s thought “has been crudely misinterpreted and cruelly misrepresented” Buddhism and vedAnta are two distinct mountain paths. it, They do not criss-cross on their well- laid- out courses. The twain does not and should not meet, if the rich tapestry and the variegated mosaic of ancient Asian philosophical speculation is to be preserved, and make its significant contribution to world philosophy.