[From ‘Mayavadera Jivani – The Life Story of Impersonalism’ ]
Kishori Mohana Chattapadhyaya, an established Buddhist, declared in writing in his Prajna-Paramita Sutra – on page 177: “The shunya, that is, the voidistic state of the Buddhists, and the brahma or ethereal plane of the Hindus (of Shankaracarya) are not different. Therefore, the Buddhists’s shunyavada, the philosophy of voidism or nihilism, and the Hindu’s or Shankara’s brahmavada, the philosophy of monism, are simply different words that mean the same thing.”
Nobody differs in the opinion that Kishori Mohana was a leading supporter of the Buddhist dharma. He substantiated in his book that acharya Shankara’s doctrine and Buddha’s doctrine were the same. The sankhya philosophers and panditas led by Vijnana Bhikshu, the patanjala philosophers and yogis, the Vedanta philosophers, and so many acharyas like Sri Ramanuja, Srila Madhva, Srila Jiva Goswami, Sri Vallabhacarya, Srila Krsnadas Kaviraja Goswami, Srila Baladeva Vidyabhushana, and even Buddhist panditas have also supported Shankara’s method of analysis to be like Buddha’s. Shankara himself displayed so much honor and respect towards Buddha as we have previously mentioned. Various Puranas have ascertained the philosophy of Shankara as pracchanna bauddha-vada, covered or disguised Buddhism. Shankara’s mass of followers have interpreted the irrefutability of these Puranic shlokas in a deceptive way. Actually though, there is no appropriate reason for them to have cast aside these shlokas.
By examining all kinds of aitihyams or various traditions and historical instructions, we will find many similarities between Shankara’s philosophy and Buddha’s. Nevertheless, if we only substantiate Shankara’s philosophy as covered Buddhism through history and tradition, we will simply bring on the protests of the mayavadis or impersonalists. Just to remove such objections and satisfy our own objective ends we are culling through both Shankara’s siddhanta and Buddha’s siddanta to show they are in agreement. Exactly how the present-day mainstream school of thought of the ‘mayavada’ or ‘impersonalists’ life has gradually developed and flourished, having become the status quo or the acceptable norm – we are humbly submitting to our readers to become acquainted with.
Prakriti or nature is maya, or an aspect of maya. Therefore, if Buddha’s prakriti-vada, naturalism, is also said to be mayavada, then they are, of course, nondifferent. The dhatu (root of a word) of budh plus the kartrivachya (active voice), kta – is Buddha. The meaning of the root budh denotes intelligence or knowledge. Buddha is that knowledge which appears from the womb of maya and is thus called mayavada. In fact, following the appearance of Gautama, mayavada assumed its distinct shape and was preached and proselytized throughout the world. The advaitavada of the previous Buddha era and the advaitavada of the present-day Buddha and Shankaracarya are completely different. However, at this time, we will show Shankara’s and Buddha’s philosophical unity. Jagat, the material universe, brahma, the ethereal plane of light, shunya, the void, and the unity between the path of moksa, liberation, and shunya, and so on, are the topics relating to Buddha and Shankara’s philosophy that are not differentiated between – they are described as follows:
1) Buddha’s Opinion is Jagat Mithya, the Universe is False.
Jagat, the universe, and the principle of shunya, the void or zero, are the same in Buddha’s opinion. The beginning of the universe is asat, temporal, that is, shunya and the asat-svarupa or essential identity of the temporal in the end is also essentially shunya. That which is asat in the beginning and asat in the end must be asat or shunya in the middle. The form of kala, time, has not been the least accounted for. Sunya in the beginning and shunya at the end is the only consideration. Atita, past, is shunya; bhavisya, future, is shunya; and what is between both, vartmana, present, is shunya. They explain, “Present is none other than time – past and future is just another name for it. Any phrase before it is spoken is future, and the moment after it is spoken, together, it is past. Therefore, the present is not able to be traced out at any time.” Maintaining this line of reasoning, the Buddhists want to prove that the present conception of the universe is null and void.
We say, if ‘Rama has lived’, is this not sheer enough proof of Rama’s existence? Having said the name Rama, must there be no person with that name? Thus, for that matter, must we even accept the giver of this reasoning for the present time? In fact, when we assume the existence of time, then present, past, and future are also there. In any case, in Buddhist ontology, the tri-kala or threefold aspect of universal time is accepted as mithya, false. Acharya Shankara also has accepted this opinion – it is clearly shown herein:
2) Shankara’s opinion is also Jagat Mithya, the Universe is False.
Acharya Shankara, following in the footsteps of Buddha, accepted the principle of the cause of the jagat or universe as tri-kala-shunya, three-folded timelessness or void. He called it avidya, forgetfulness or ignorance. This avidya is an immense, inexpressible principle of the sad-asad, real and temporary, relationship. In Sri Shankara’s book, Ajnana-bodini, the jagat is mentioned; if it is discussed here, this topic’s meaning will become more understandable. His eighth sentence says:
bho bhagavan! yad bhrama-matra-siddhim tat kim
satyam? are yatha indra-jalam pashyati janah, vyaghra-
jalata-dadi asatyataya prati-bhati kim? indra-jala-brahme
nivritte sati sarvam mithyeti janati. idantu sarvesam-
In these sentences he calls the jagat a bhrama, or illusory mistake, and thus everything is mithya, falsely perceived like a juggler’s magic. In the sixth shloka of Nirvana-dasaka he also says: na jagran na me svapnako va sushuptirna vishva. Thus, in this sentence, Shankaracarya has divided up the universe like Buddha. Furthermore, he has said:
nidra-mahat svapnavat tan na satyam
suddah purno nitya ekah sivo’ham
(atma-prapancaka, 3rd shloka, Shankara)
That is, tan na satyam, svapnavat – the world is not real, it is asat, temporary, and mithya, false, like a dream. The existence of the world is perceived as a dreamlike sleep only. Actually, it is not real.
Samskara, inborn nature, and svapna, dream.
Buddha has especially remarked about the samskara, or inborn nature, of the world in several places. Acharya Shankara expressed that the world is manifested as svapnera, dreamlike, only. Actually, samskara and svapna indicate the same conception, because both samskara and svapna evolve from the imagination. Whenever a dream is perceived as substantially real, then one’s inborn nature is its primary cause. This is the opinion of philosophers. Although Shankara’s Vedanta-Sutra commentary attacked the principle of samskara of the Buddhists, still he subtly considered the perception of the world to be like a dream and the principle of samskara to be the same – the sole difference being in the words only.
Acharya Shankara’s cause of the world is avidya – sad asat-vilakshana-anirvachaniyatvera -“the inexpressible nature of the sad-asat” – in this way, it is not even slightly different from the tri-kala-shunya, the threefold timelessness or void, of the Buddhists. He said it is like the example between abalone, the mother-of-pearl oyster, and silver. Silver is comparable to avidya, born of ignorance; therefore, this silvery jnana is only an illumination. An illuminated thing only lasts for a while; in the Buddhist’s idea it is only a flicker. Namely, knowledge that is momentarily silvery is merely ignorance. Past, future, and present, these three times are imperceptible, an ignorance or nescience that is not real, only false. The eminent writer, Rajendranatha Ghosha Mahodaya, who published Advaita Siddhi, once put forth an amazing explanation while commenting on Acharya Shankara – he remarked, “That which does not exist gives off a reflection – ant the world that exists does not give off any reflection, for example – brahma”. This explanation is very much like the Buddhist philosophy. The Buddhist Jnanashri said, yat sat tat kshanikam – this is, whatever is sat or satya, existent or genuine, is temporary; it is momentary or “for that time” therefore it is mithya, false. Acharya Shankara has said in his book, Aparokshanubhuti, in shloka 44, echoing the kshanika-vada, the momentary principle of Buddha : rajju-jnanat kshane naiva yadvad rajjur hi sarpini. Namely, “a rope may be mistaken to resemble a snake, but that mistaken idea is momentary; thus, the jagat or world is like that mistake, it is also momentary.” If we accept this aspect of timelessness as a truly shunya relationship of the world, then in the end how does it differ from the tri-kala-shunya moment of manifestation of the world by Buddha? Intelligent readers should muse over this.