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UPANISHADS AND GREEK THINKERS ON 'ELEMENTS'

From the very dawn of the comparative studies in the philosophy area, scholars have noted close parallelism between Indian and Greek philos...

Friday, March 24, 2017

New Book., 'ARSHADARSANANGAL' Published!

My third book is ready for sales.
Name - Arshadarsanangal.
The subject of the book is Indian philosophy. mainly Advaita Vedanta.
Publisher - Buddha Books.
Language of the book - Malayalam.
160 Pages. 120 rupees.


പുസ്തകം വാങ്ങാൻ 9947254570 എന്ന നമ്പറിലേക്കു "AD-space-Address with Pin Code" എന്ന ഫോർമാറ്റിൽ SMS അയയ്ക്കുക.
Bank account details - "Buddha Books, Ac/No: 337501010034342, Union Bank, Aluva Branch, IFSC code: UBIN0533751."

Flipkart വഴി വാങ്ങാൻ => https://goo.gl/YL50XL

You can also contact me to get book => sunilmv@gmail.com

പുസ്തകത്തിലെ ഉള്ളടക്കം:-

1. ഭാരതീയ ദർശനങ്ങളുടെ ആവിർഭാവം.
2. തത്ത്വജ്ഞാന ധാരകളുടെ വിഭജനം.
3. മോക്ഷ-മാർഗങ്ങൾ.
4. പ്രമാണങ്ങൾ.
5. ഭാരതീയ ദർശന ധാരകൾ.
6. വ്യക്തിത്വം ശരീര സൃഷ്ടിയോ? – ന്യായ വീക്ഷണം.
7. അദ്വൈത വേദാന്തത്തിലെ പ്രമാണങ്ങൾ.
8. പ്രപഞ്ച-സൃഷ്ടിവാദത്തിലെ അപാകതകൾ.
9. അദ്വൈതം – കർക്കശമായ ഏകത്വം.
10. അവിദ്യ – വിദ്യയുടെ മൂടുപടം.
11. ബോധം: ബാഹ്യലോകത്തിന്റെ ആധാരം.
12. എന്തുകൊണ്ട് നമ്മിൽ ദൈവികത്വം ഉണ്ട്?
13. ബാഹ്യലോകം എന്തുകൊണ്ട് അനിർവചനീയം (മായ) ആകുന്നു?
14. യാഥാർത്ഥ്യത്തിന്റെ മൂന്ന് അളവുകൾ.
15. ഉപസംഹാരം.

അനുബന്ധം:-
1. ഉപനിഷത്തും ശ്രീബുദ്ധതത്ത്വങ്ങളും.
2. പഞ്ചഭൂതങ്ങൾ - ഉപനിഷത്ത് - ഗ്രീക്ക് ദർശനങ്ങളിൽ.

സുഹൃത്തുക്കളുമായി പങ്കുവയ്ക്കുക.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

WHY ARE WE DIVINE?

The most important and valued idea of Advaita Vedānta is that everything is divine. Advaita Vedanta (AV) achieves this by admitting a relative reality, below the single, absolute Brahman. This is a realistic approach. Though AV is absolute idealism, transcendentally, realism has its space in Advaita Vedanta, from Vyavahārika standpoint. Advaita Vedanta admits the reality of the empirical world from the relative standpoint or Vyavaharika. Sankara never denied the reality of the external world and its practical validity. He admits its full reality from the empirical standpoint and its relative reality from the ultimate standpoint, Paramārthika. Sankara says that the relative world is the way to reach the ultimate truth, Brahman. Without travelling through the relative, nobody will reach the ultimate. The relative empirical world is the lower truth and the absolute Brahman is the ultimate truth.

The relative empirical world is said to be essence-less because each and everything in the empirical world depend upon each other. ‘That’, which depends on something ‘other’, for its existence, cannot said to have an essence, in philosophic sense. So the essence-less empirical world is not ultimately real; it depends on the Brahman for its existence. Brahman only is ultimately Real and the relative, empirical world is indescribable from the viewpoint of this ultimate reality. External world, from the viewpoint of Brahman, is māya or relative. External world is said to be existing (because it is visible) and non-existing (because it has no essence) at the same time. So it is called māya or indescribable. It is also stated as ‘un-real’ elsewhere. Here ‘un-real’ should take in the ultimate sense. In the ultimate sense only Brahman is real. Every other things are ‘un-real’. ‘Un-real’ does not mean ‘non-existence’. It means indescribable or relative or māya. 

Empirical world is, thus, relatively real. Everyone, in their life, first come in acquaint with this relative, empirical plane of truth only; not the ultimate plane of truth. It is relative plane that leads him to the ultimate plane of reality.

Ultimate truth is usually assigned as ‘Nirguna Brahman’, which is devoid of qualities, in Advaita Vedānta. But in relative plane Advaita Vedanta assigns personal qualities to this ultimate truth, to bring down it to a lower plane, because ultimate truth is beyond the comprehension of common man having ignorance. But ultimate truth having personal qualities is within the reach of common man. Nirguna Brahman in relative plane, i.e. with personal attributes, is known as ‘Saguna Brahman’. Saguna Brahman is the Brahman with Māya. Man is a Jiva existing in empirical world. Man does not know that he actually belongs to the ultimate plane, but in relative place, due to Avidya[1]. When Avidya become extinct by acquiring proper Jnāna (knowledge), man came to knew that he was in relative plane of reality so far and he actually is one with the ultimate reality; not even an inch below, or different from, the absolute.

Thus everything in this world is divine in nature. What we need is to realize this in life. When we realize it, then duality will extinct in us and we will understand that ‘we’ are the same as ‘other’.

The two planes of single reality:-

Because of the difficulty for common man to understand the real nature of ultimate reality, due to avidya, AV assumes two planes or levels for the same reality. The first plane is the ultimate reality itself, which is realizable to those, devoid of avidya. In this plane the ultimate reality will not have qualities. If anything do not have qualities, then that would be beyond human conception. So this ultimate reality is indescribable. (Common man can conceive it by a low level definition like ‘sat-chit-ānanda’, real-existing-bliss). This is known as Nirguna Brahman or Paramartha Satya. Upanishads use ‘neti, neti’ to indicate Its indescribability. This ultimate reality is all everywhere and it is ‘one without a second’. The Advaita Vedānta calls this ultimate reality as ‘Nirguna Brahman’ and Madhyamaka Buddhists as ‘Prajna’ and Vasubandhu of Vjnānavāda as ‘Vijnāptimātra’.

Anyway, realizing this ultimate reality in life is not easy. Only a man having Brahma-vidya and thus devoid of avidya, can realize it. After gaining that knowledge he ‘becomes’ it. He becomes jivanmukta in this very life. Yet he has to live till his Prārābda karmas get extinct. He will not take birth again after ‘death’. He escapes from the clutch of Samsara.

Thus aspirant achieves the plane of ultimate reality. He is in no way below the ultimate, then. His position is in par with the Brahman. He is one with Brahman. In ordinary life he may not be aware of his original ultimate nature, due to avidya. He may not aware that he is already a liberated being and only need to ‘know’ his divinity. For this ‘knowing’, knowledge about ultimate reality (Brahma-vidya) is necessary. After acquiring knowledge he himself becomes Brahman. This is the highest optimistic belief man may have ever invented; be one with the absolute reality. Here man is in no way under the absolute, even by a small fraction. How such a belief system can be blamed as ‘pessimism’, then?



[1] Avidya can be whatever which evoke the impression in us that ‘we’ and ‘they’, or whatever makes us think of duality.

Friday, October 2, 2015

DUALISM IN MONOTHEISM

I had faced a peculiar situation, on many occasions of my life. It usually happens in the midst of a conversation with friends. My certain friends will opine that ‘they believe in God very well, but not in Ghost/Witch/Demon’. After presenting their view they simply abandon that topic, refusing further discussion. Many a time, I had come up with an explanation. But nobody heeded me.

The doubt I try to raise in front of my friends was ‘If somebody can believe in the existence and activities of god, then, why can’t he believe in the existence and activities of a ghost or demon?

God is a supernatural agency. He is not bound by the limitations that the Nature presents to the common man. Instead He can do everything. His realm of activities and thought is beyond human comprehension. He is said to be the controller of nature. Thus there are many credits with him. Overwhelmed by these all, people believe and worship him. They think that God can do miracles to save them in their bad times… Ok. Let it be so. But…

The ethical angle of the problem:-

In every religion God is supposed to be utmost justful. He keeps high morality. He sets the moral rules for the devotees. Devotees are obliged to follow them rigidly. Those who deviate from the moral rules set forth by the god are destined to suffer its consequences in this world or in after life. Such are the common ethical concept. This in turn installs a duality in the religious belief.

When god guides the followers through the moral path, set forth by him, there automatically arises its opposite view, i.e. immorality. If there is ‘I’, then ‘Non-I’ is natural and both cannot be true at the same time, as per law of contradiction. When ethics exists, then un-ethics also exist. In the same way, if there is a supernatural agency which possess or imposes ethics exists, then there should be a super natural agency which possess or imposes un-ethics also must exist. These both ethical and unethical supernatural agencies usually exist at the same level, beyond the reach of human intellect[1].

So in every religion god, who imposes morality among his followers, accompanies a ‘villain god’, commonly known as demon/ghost, who continuously tries to deflect god’s followers from the ethical path. Whichever devotee follows the moral path set up by the god must also fear the non-ethical villain god, demon. Both god and demon can’t stand independently from each other[2]. It is the ethical part that clearly discerns the god from demon. Apart from the ethical and compassion level, both are almost at same level in their capabilities.

The ethical god constantly keeps his followers in vigil against the un-ethical tactics of his counterpart. What actually exists there is a kind of dualism; belief in the existence of a god and also demon, both are not bound by the natural limitations. Thus in monotheism there may be only a god, but not one and only one supernatural agency. Instead there are two or multiple[3] supernatural agencies. Among this multitude of supernatural agencies one is supposed to be god, another demon and the rest angels or spirits etc. The difference between them lies in the degree of power and quality attributed to them by the worshipper. 

In a strict mono supernatural agency worship god - demon, ethic – unethic division is impossible2. Existence and belief in two or more entities, like god – demon, having super natural abilities inherently carries dualistic or pluralistic notion. And during worship, a devotee should believe in both. If either of them is absent, then the second one losses its importance. If the world is full of ethics, which won’t lose in anyway, then why should there be a god, who imposes ethics upon the people, is needed? So a god - demon roles are complimentary, and nobody can believe solely in one of them only.  

Atheistic viewpoint:-

An atheist considers monotheism and polytheism in the same level. Inclusion of monotheism and polytheism in the same category is not at all a contradiction for them. They usually ask “if somebody believe in a single super natural agency, like god, then why can’t he believe in multiple super natural agencies, like in polytheism?’ What is the core difference between these two theisms? Further more if somebody believe that the demon or demy-god like figures (which stand above the level of human experience or the realm of senses) do exist along with a single god, then how can he blame others for their multi-god worship?

Monotheism and polytheism are in par level for an atheist. And as long as the ethical, un-ethical duality exists, god - demon duality also exists and nobody can escape from this dualistic idea.

Monism and Advaita Vedanta:-

Advaita Vedanta escapes from this dualistic notion, by proposing a single, non-dual Reality, Brahman, and two levels of its existence. First is known as Paramartha Satya, Ultimate truth[4] and second is known as Vyavahara Satya or Relative truth.

Phenomenal world is in relative truth level. God - asura, creation – destruction, sin – virtue and such type dualities exist at this plane of reality. But care should be taken for not to think this dualities as the ultimate. These dualities exist only in the phenomenal world, which is in relative plane of reality. In ultimate reality level there is no duality exists. Single non dual Brahman only exists in the ultimate truth level[5].



[1]  God cannot be the possessor of both ethics and un-ethics. If god has both, then He will automatically become a non-god being the possessor of two contradictory characters.
[2]  If there is only ethic all over the world, then we can’t define the term ‘ethic’ or recognize ethic as ethic. A definition implies negation of the opposite views.
[3]  Multiple super natural agencies may exist in religious beliefs. Angels, spirit, demy -god etc and such type demy-gods are also supernatural agencies. Their prominence with respect to god varies by different degrees. Yet they don’t become a non – super natural agency.
[4]  Ultimate truth/Absolute/infinite Being is a philosophical term for the empirical God and God is a theological name for the philosophical Absolute or ultimate truth.
[5]  In Advaita Vedanta. The abode of the gods is Nirguna Brahman. i.e. the gods which devotees worship daily, are not in the highest reality level. They have importance only in phenomenal world. When a devotee attains Brahma-vidya, he understood the relative nature of the deities and world. He himself becomes one with Brahman then.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

New book (in Malayalam) "CHILA ARIYAPPEDATHA EDUKAL"

My new book (in Malayalam).
Autobiographical Notes of Hearing Handicapped person.

To buy copies visit Amazon.in => http://www.amazon.in/dp/9352357825

Front Cover:-



More purchase options will come up in future.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

CONSCIOUSNESS: THE SUBSTRATUM OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE

Are we seeing the objects around us like plants, animals, rocks, etc because we have eyes? Are we hearing various sounds from the outside world due to our ears? In the same way touch-skin, odour – nose, taste – tongue pairs also should be considered. Common man may answer ‘yes’ to each of this question, and that is correct in certain sense, but only to reach in a more correct answer afterwards. In a deep analysis we may understand that ‘something’ is always supporting our all sensations. We cannot sense even if our sense organs are healthy and working properly. Why a sleeping man does not hear noises around him? Why he not waking up by the moderate touch of others? People may say he is in deep sleep. Yet after waking up, he knew that he was sleeping. He does not sense other’s touches and sounds while sleeping. But he is able to remember a dream that he saw after waking up. Who sensed dream while the man was sleeping? Why did the man not sense touch and sound of others in the way he sensed dreams? Is it his mind that dreamt? Then can the mind exist and function when all of our senses remain idle?

If we analyse the cognitions thoroughly, we can understand that the substratum of our sensations and mental states is nothing but our consciousness. Consciousness works with external organs and internal organ (mind) to sense the external and internal sensations. In our waking state the external organs sense the phenomenal world and pass the sensation to the internal organ (manas). Internal organ passes these sensations to the consciousness, one at a time, avoiding simultaneous perceptions[1]. These are the steps to cognize an external object. In dream, mind conveys some memory impressions to the consciousness and in deep sleep no communication happens at all. Thus all cognitions depend on consciousness. We can’t cognize anything, mental or physical, without having consciousness. So what really exists? The external world or the consciousness?

Here a classification may be applied. On one side we have ‘consciousness’ and on the other, external objects. To sense the latter, we must need the former. In such a scenario, one may interpret the situation in the following manner. If ‘something’ depends on ‘another something’ for its existence/manifestation, or more clearly, if we sense a secondary entity (external world) only through a primary entity (consciousness), then the secondary entity can be said to be the manifestation or modification of the primary entity! In other words, when the existence of something depends solely on another thing, then the latter will have more validity and reality than the former. Then the secondary entity (external world) may not exist as an objective reality independent of the consciousness. Subjective consciousness itself can be said to be the objective external world. Perceiver and perceived is same, we can say. Subject - object classification is not there, ultimately.

This theory that ‘consciousness is the ultimate reality’ can be found prominently in the teachings of the Upanishads, Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism.



[1]  Though not simultaneous, it is said elsewhere that the transfer of perceptions from mind to the consciousness is so fast like a needle piercing each page of a book at a time, when we push the needle into the book.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

THE UPANISHADS AND TEACHING OF SRI BUDDHA - PART 2

Two levels of reality as per Sri Buddha:-

Like Upanishads, Buddha has admitted two levels of the same truth/reality[1] and expressed about them directly or indirectly in certain occasions. Let us quote a frequent claim of Buddha from Brahma Jwala Sutta.

“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.[2]

In this Sutta, it is said that there is ‘something’ that is very difficult to understand, beyond the logic and comprehensible only to the wise. This assertion indirectly points to the two levels of the reality. One of them is comprehensible only to the wise and difficult to comprehend by the ‘others’. Buddha has achieved it, as per Brahma jwala sutta. I.e., Buddha has ‘realized[3]’ that, which is difficult to comprehend for the un-wise and who uses logic to apprehend things and theories. So the Buddha was not in the plane of reality in which ‘others’ reside. Buddha is in a higher plane. Then in which plane of reality, the common man, (who are not competent to achieve the reality that Thathagata has achieved) resides. Of course, they will be in a lower plane to which Buddha has achieved. Thus there must be two level of reality[4].

The second proof for the existence of two planes of reality is the indication about the ‘nama-rupa’. The Thathagata had discoursed about nama-rupa (Name and Form) many times. As per this, the objects that we see in the mundane world exist just as nama-rupa. Everything in the world is in constant flux. They are in ‘coming into’ and ‘passing by’ state always. So they have no ultimate existence. They are devoid of essence. Because of these reasons the mundane world is expressible only in name and form (nama-rupa). In the ultimate sense the mundane world is surely in the low plane of reality. Then where is this continuously changing mundane world is rooted? There must be such an ultimate plane of reality upon which the mundane plane exists and here, we again get two planes of ultimate reality[5].

The Upanishads also says that the external world exist as name and form only. Upanishads give a simile for this. There are many things made up of clay like pot, bowl, etc. But we know, the pot and bowl are mere names decided by their form, and the thing by which the pot and bowl were made up of is clay. So clay is the root or substratum of all things that are made up of clay, and by knowing clay we will know the essence of everything made up of clay. This indicates that the cause (clay) and effects (pot, bowl, etc.) are same and the transformation happened to the cause is able to indicate by a name, by noticing the form of transformation. This transformation is known as ‘effect’. In fact, cause is not different from effect. This is the idea narrated in the Chandogya Upanishad between the conversation between Uddhalaka Aruni and his son Svetaketu.

“Through which, the unheard of becomes heard, the un-thought of becomes thought of, the unknown becomes known?’ (Svetaketu asked,) ‘O venerable sir, in what way is that instruction imparted?’

“O good looking one, as by knowing a lump of earth, all things made of earth become known: All transformation has speech as its basis, and it is name only. Earth as such is the reality.”

“O good looking one, as by knowing a lump of gold, all things made of gold become known: All transformation has speech as its basis, and it is name only. Gold as such is the reality.”

“O good looking one, as by knowing a nail-cutter, all things made of iron become known: All transformation has speech as its basis, and it is name only. Iron as such is the reality. O good looking one, thus is that instruction.”

The idea of nama-rupa is mentioned in many other parts of Upanishad collection. It is such a well established doctrine and this also indicates that there are two planes of ultimate reality.

The root of nama-rupa as per Buddhism and the Upanishads:-

Which is the root of nama-rupa, as per Buddhism? This question also answers to another unavoidable question - ‘where the mundane world has its seat?’ In this case, the Upanishads are clear on their stand that Brahman is the substratum of the external world and objects, known by the nama-rupa. According to Buddha, in the Kevaddha sutta, Avidya/ignorance is the root of nama-rupa.

“Once upon a time, Kevaddha, there occurred to a certain brother in this very company of the brethren, a doubt on the following point: “Where now do these four great elements – earth, water, fire, and wind – pass away, leaving no trace behind ?”

The Bhikkhu seeking the answer went to the great kings, king of kings. i.e, Sakka, great gods and finally to the Great Brahma. But everyone was helpless. Then the Great Brahma send the Bhikkhu to the Gotama, the Buddha and the exalted one answers to the Bhikkhu thus:

“Now the question, brother, should not be put as you have put it. Instead of asking where the four great elements cease, leaving no trace behind, you should have asked:

Where do earth, water, fire, and wind,
And long and short, and fine and coarse,
Pure and impure, no footing find?
Where is it that both name and form,
Die out, leaving no trace behind?

On that the answer is: “The intellect of Arhatship, the invisible, the endless, accessible from every side --

‘There is it that earth, water, fire, and wind,
And long and short, and fine and coarse,
Pure and impure, no footing find.
There is it that both name and form
Die out, leaving no trace behind.
When intellection ceases they all also cease.’

Thus spake the Exalted One. And Kevaddha, the young householder, pleased at heart, rejoiced at the spoken word.”

The name and form do not find footing in the ‘Intellect of the Arhatship’ and when intellect ceases, everything cease, Kevaddha Sutta says. So when name and form exists, and so do the external world, its footing should be on the Intellect (which contains ignorance) of common man, before he acquire Arhatship. Here a question arises. What is the specialty of the ‘Intellect of Arhatship’ compared to the intellect of others who have not attained the Arhatship? Obviously both person's Intellect can’t be same. Since the nama-rupa is in mundane world, the nama-rupa must die out in ‘something’, that is trans-mundane. Nama-rupa cannot die out in anything that is not trans-mundane. So the ‘Intellect of the arhatship’ must be transcendental, trans-mundane and beyond the realm of logic and senses.

The mundane world and the objects contained in it are composed of the four primary elements, viz earth, water, fire and air. Kevaddha Sutta says that the four elements do not find their footing in ‘Intellect of Arhatship’. This implies that prior to attaining arhatship, for a bhikkhu, four elements (and mundane world) have their root on the intellect, or on something that co-exist with intellect, of the Bhikkhu. But a Bhikkhu’s intellect is not like the Intellect of the Arhat. The former has the intellect with ignorance co-exists with it. Due to this, the four elements and the mundane world find their foot on the ignorance. However, when the Bhikkhu attains Arhatship, the ignorance cease to exist and only pure intellect shines forth from the Arhat (Bhikkhu). Then the mundane world, nama-rupa and the four elements die out.

This whole discussion means, prior to arhatship attainment Nama-rupa has its root in the ignorance/avidya of the Bhikshu. But Avidya cannot exist alone because it is a dependent factor; an unreal factor. All unreals have to depend on a real. So Avidya must exist with an ultimate reality (Nirvana). When avidya becomes exhausted and die out, then Nama-rupa also cease to exist and only Intellect shines forth then.

What will happen after the mundane world and four elements die out in intellect? We may assume that, from the time of Arhatship achievement, nothing more found their foot on the Intellect (of Arhat). Only pure Intellect shines forth. Arhat experiences / realizes supreme bliss, thereon.

If we replace the ‘Intellect of the Arhatship’ with Consciousness, we will get the doctrine of Upanishads[6]. It is stated in many Upanishads that external world and everything has its existence in Brahman. (The thing to note here is that, when we suppose the Brahman as the substratum of everything, we get an Absolutist theory and when we suppose Intellect as the substratum of everything, we get an Idealistic theory).

“It is this heart (intellect), and this mind that were stated earlier. It is sentience, ruler ship, secular knowledge, presence of mind, retentiveness, sense-perception, fortitude, thinking, genius, mental suffering, memory, ascertainment, resolution, life-activities, hankering, passion, and such others. All these verily are the names of Consciousness.”

“This one is (inferior) Brahman; this god Indra, this is Prajapati; this is all these gods and this is these five great elements, viz earth, air, ether, water, fire; and this is all big creatures…… those that are born of egg, of wombs, of moisture and of the earth, viz horses, cattle, men, elephants, and all creatures that moving or flying, and in addition, whatsoever is immovable: all these are impelled by consciousness; all these have consciousness as the giver of their reality; the universe has consciousness as its eye, and consciousness is its end. Consciousness is Brahman.[7]

In the first stanza it is said that all of the mental phenomena, that falls in the domain of consciousness includes the Intellect[8]. The second stanza says that what all we sees in the world have their root in consciousness, which include the Intellect as per previous sloka.

In the Upanishads Brahman and Intellect are distinguished separately, by Advaitins. But not so, with other Vedantic schools. The above Aitareya sloka have been rendered in a different meaning in some translations.

This god Brahma, and this god Indra, …… these five great elements (earth, air, ether, water, fire), …… creatures born from the egg, from the womb, and from perspiration, sprouting plants, horses, cows, men, elephants, and whatever breaths, whether moving or flying, and in addition, whatsoever is immovable: all this is led by Intellect, and is supported on Intellect. The world is led by Intellect. Intellect is the support. Intellect is the highest reality.[9]

This is a different rendering of meaning from the non-advaitic standpoint and we know that there were different opinions on the exact teaching of the Upanishads as to whether it is professing non-duality or duality. This example indicates that the difference merely did not confine to the non-dual – dual aspect. Instead differences have been cropped into other areas also.

Here we may safely suggest that, Buddha might have been initiated into the Vedic teaching in the early days of his boyhood and studentship because that was the common custom among the nobles. This brings him in touch with the Upanishad doctrine. So there are ample reasons to propose that the Buddha may have substituted the unchanging Consciousness of Upanishads with the Intellect because the ‘unchanging character’ of the former is not in line with his doctrine of dependent origination[10]. Intellect cannot be argued as unchanging, making his theory safe and intact. On the other hand, the Buddha made the consciousness in complementary with the nama-rupa[11].

Anyway there is no hard and fast distinction between the Upanishadic doctrine regarding nama-rupa and Buddha’s doctrine about nama-rupa and its footing on the Intellect. Both are similar in the outlook and the minor difference, if someone feel, are due to the peculiar presentment of the doctrine in the Buddha’s discourse.

Buddha on indestructible consciousness:-

Potthapada Sutta is very interesting in many respects. It comments about the ten uncertainties to which Buddha did not answer and the soul – consciousness theory of the heretics is also touched upon. Then there is interesting long discussion on Consciousness and it states; passing consciousnesses. At the end of the passing consciousnesses Buddha assumes a ‘summit of consciousness’ which will not pass away, instead will remain unaffected.

In Potthapada Sutta, Buddha states several states of consciousness which passes away after the attainment of a higher level consciousness than current one. This process goes on as follows:-

1st, Consciousness due to the detachment[12].
2nd, Consciousness born of concentration[13].
3rd, Concentration of the bliss of equanimity.
4th, Consciousness of the absence of pain and ease.
5th, Consciousness of being only concerned with the infinity of space.
6th, Consciousness of everything being within the sphere of the infinity of cognition.
7th Consciousness of unreality as the object of his thought.

And at the end come the description about the final consciousness, which ends in a trance.

“So from the time, Potthapada, that the Bhikkhu is thus conscious in a way brought about by himself (from the time of the First Rapture), he goes on from one stage to the next, and from that to the next until he reaches the summit of consciousness. And when he is on the summit, it may occur to him: “To be thinking at all is the inferior state. There better not to be thinking. Were I to go on thinking and fancying, these ideas, these states of consciousness, I have reached to, would pass away, but others, coarser ones, might arise. So I will neither think nor fancy anymore.” And he does not. And to him neither thinking any more, nor fancying, the ideas, the states of consciousness, he had, pass away; and no others, coarser than they, arise. So he falls into trance[14]. Thus is it, Potthapada, that the attainment of the cessation of conscious ideas takes place step by step.”

The steps that Buddha described are almost similar to the steps of Yoga and Meditation practice, existed before him, and elaborated by Buddhist masters. In the summit of consciousness, the trance, into which the Bhikkhu falls in, may be akin to the state of Samadhi, as told by Yogins. In the Upanishads, consciousness is equated with Brahman in many places.

This summit of consciousness is not at all akin to the consciousness that is complementary to the nama-rupa. Then, is this akin to the consciousness mentioned in the Upanishads? No way to get an answer because such a question is not touched upon. Not just this question, but in the bulk collection of the discourses, that Buddha had with disciples, the word ‘Upanishads’ is mentioned nowhere!



[1] Corresponding to the Paramarthika and Vyavaharika Satya of Advaita Vedanta.
[2] Ironically enough, in Tevigga Sutta, Sri Buddha says, ‘Because none of the Brahmins have seen the Brahman face to face, how can we believe that there is such an entity?’. This teaching has lost its all weight as he himself says that he realized something which is beyond the grasp of logic and can realize only for the wise. Or was Buddha really criticizing the Upanishadic Brahman in Tevigga Sutta?
[3] Buddha did not achieve this highest truth, instead he realized it. That mean, he did not attain anything from outside to get into this highest level. He just realized something which is already present in him! Upanishads also says everything is divine and we have to ‘realize’ it.
[4] “The teaching of Buddha is based on two truths, the mundane and the ultimate. Those who do not know the distinction between these two truths do not understand the profound meaning in the teaching of the Buddha.” (XXII. 15 6)
[5] The two planes of ultimate reality are mere logical. It is not a real distinction. There are no two levels for the Ultimate reality. Ultimate reality is single.  
[6] In Buddhist Suttas nama-rupa and consciousness are complimentary. One cannot exist without the other.
[7] Aitareya Upanishad. III.i.2-3. (This is a translation from the Advaitic standpoint).
[8] Purely psychological factors are mentioned in the Upanishads.
[9] ‘A history of Indian Philosophy: The creative period’ – S K Belvalker and R D Ranade.
[10] Buddha cannot propose an unchanging consciousness in which nama-rupa find its foot because that will shake his very theory of ‘constant flux’ and ‘momentariness’. Whenever the Buddha talked about consciousness, the Thathagata made consciousness in complimentary with the nama-rupa, without which it cannot exist and sustain, thus keeping his dependent origination theory intact. When we assign intellect as the root of nama-rupa, there is enough gap to escape from the eternalism.
[11] “What must there be , in order that there may be name and material form? Whence come name and material form? – consciousness must be in order that there may be name and material form; from consciousness come name and material form. – What must be there In order that there may be consciousness? Whence comes consciousness? Name and material form must be, in order that there may be consciousness; from name and material form comes consciousness. Then my disciples, the Bodhisatti Vipassi thought: consciousness conversely depends on name and material form: the chain goes no farther.” --- Mahapadhana Sutta, Digha NIkhaya.
[12] “……Then that idea, (that consciousness) of lusts that he had before passes away. And thereupon there arises within him a subtle, but actual, consciousness of the joy and peace arising from detachment, and he becomes a person to whom that idea is consciously present.”
[13] “……Then that subtle, but actual, consciousness of the joy and peace arising from detachment, that he just had, passes away. And thereupon there arises a subtle, but actual, consciousness of the joy and peace born of concentration.”
[14] Trance means ‘ecstatic delight’.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

THE UPANISHADS AND TEACHING OF THE SRI BUDDHA - PART 1

Approving or reformulating the theories of the thinkers of anterior period, is not at all a fault of the thinkers or philosophers of the posterior period, because thought development is a continuous and dynamic process. Thought cannot mature within a short span of time. Thought need time to perfect itself. Thought of a single person or a handful of people may develop rapidly at an astonishing pace. But thought of a society or a circle of thinkers cannot progress that much easily. As new ideas arise in the circle/society, supporters and detractor will sprang up here and there. Then there happen vigorous debates and challenges among them. Amidst these heated contests and controversies, the theory or theories that stand high will pass to the next generations. There such theories will undergo the same course of contest and controversies which its predecessor idea/ideas had underwent. This process will continue endlessly unless the culture or civilization never interrupted by an internal or external disasters. And fortunately Indian civilization, culture and philosophy are unaltered since its inception and have not succumbed to any external threats so far. It successfully overcame every obstacles posed by the detractors.

All of the Indian philosophical streams are not exclusive to each another. But in fact, they are in a mesh. They are interrelated in the most natural way because they have co-existed and co-operated since the dawn of Indian civilization. They had undergone severe debates with one another to test the calibre and agility of their doctrine. Though this debates, they came to realize the weak and strong points of their own system and in order to fix the drawbacks of the system, they have not refused to accept certain contents of the opposite theories, into their own system. Then a synthesis follows. This is a common trend existed in the Indian philosophic circle. Common ideas are to be found in every philosophic doctrine. The differences between them, being minor, did not damage the underlying unity of the Indian philosophical systems.

It is often believed that Sri Buddha totally despised the Vedic teaching and set up a new religion[1]. But to say, Buddha set up a new religion, is totally baseless. Of course Buddha vehemently opposed the sacrificial outlook of certain Vedic rituals, but at the same time he was very much inclined to the knowledge based portions and teachings of that Vedic collection known as ‘The Upanishads’. Buddha has not uttered even a word against the Upanishads. In fact, most of the Buddha’s teaching and doctrines can be traced back to the Upanishads. Both the Upanishads and Buddha were similar in their opposition to certain ritualistic practices and the main doctrine of Upanishads being ‘tatvamasi’, do not draw strict boundary between different varnas[2].

As we see in the following pages, many of the teachings of Sri Buddha are derived from the Upanishads. It is quite non-controversial because nobody can formulate a full-fledged doctrine, like that of Sri Buddha, which has no anterior existence, either in part or full, in the other religious or secular texts. In fact, Sri Buddha explained the teachings of Upanishads in a new outlook and terminology. The core teaching of Buddha is almost akin to the Upanishads teachings. 

Dependent origination (Pratitya-samutpada):-

Sri Buddha always tried to avoid giving affirmative or negative answers to certain (metaphysical) questions in order to avoid the extremes of eternalism and annihilationism, and to walk strictly through the Middle Way. As an example, for the question ‘Does the self exist after death or does it not exist?’, Buddha gave a thick silence as the reply because he knew that if he give ‘Yes’, it will interpret as promoting the ‘Eternalism’. On the other hand, if he give ‘No’, he will be promoting the annihilation theory. So he remained silent.

Buddha knew that what all exist in this mundane world, does not exist ultimately, and also, they did not non-exist totally. Then what is happening to them? The answer of Buddha was ‘they change from one state to another state continuously’. In other words, they are always ‘becoming’. Depending on the previous conditions, new one arises. And after that another one arises. In short, everything in the mundane world is in dependent nature and thus devoid of ultimate existence. They are expressible only in Name and Form (nama-rupa). This was the position of Buddha regarding the mundane world. He always tread through the Middle Way, which effectively denied eternal and annihilation theories.

Among Upanishads, the famous ‘Madhu vidya’ is in the oldest Brihadaranyaka Upanishad[3]. It is taught by the sage Dydhyach[4]. Though this teaching is elaborate in the Upanishad, this doctrine’s origin is in Rigveda. ‘Madhu-vidya’ teaching is multifarious. But the main theme is that, everything in the world is interconnected with one another. Let us quote from the commentary of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad by Sankaracharya.

“Because there is mutual helpfulness among the parts of the universe including the earth, and because it is common experience that those things which are mutually helpful spring from the same cause, are of the same genus and dissolve into the same thing, therefore this universe consisting of the earth etc., on account of mutual helpfulness among .its parts, must be like that. This is the meaning which is expressed in this section…[5]

Another learned scholar comments upon Madhu-vidya as follows:-

“…… Sage Dadhyach who is introduced in the Brihadaranyaka, as having held the doctrine of the mutual interdependence of things, because all of them are indissolubly connected in and through the Self. To quote from the ‘History of Indian Philosophy Volume II’, all things are in mutuum commercium, because they are bound together by the same vinculum substantiate, namely, the Self. The earth, says Dadhyach, is the honey of all beings, and all beings are the honey of the earth, just because the same lustrous and immortal Self inhabits them both. The fire is the essence of all things, and all things are the essence of fire, just because the immortal self is the essence of both. Similarly, are the wind, the sun, the space, the moon, the lightning, the thunder, the ether, and even law, truth, and humanity the essence of all things whatsoever, and all things are the essence thereof, inasmuch as the same law, the same element, the same indissoluble bond connects them both…[6]

It is a repeating theme in Upanishads that phenomenal world (and the objects exist there) has its seat in Brahman. Brahman (with Maya) is its cause and all others are its effect. And this cause and effect is different (in the case of Nama-Rupa) and same (in the case of Essence). By knowing the nature of Gold (cause), we can grasp the nature of every ornament (effect) that is made up of Gold. In the same way, by knowing the Brahman (cause), we can understand everything arise from it (effect). All that arose from Brahman exist only as just nama-rupa, name and form. Nothing in the external world has independent existence. Instead they depend on each other and live in a relative existence. Everything has its ultimate existence in the transcendental/nirguna Brahman only.

Anatman/No-Soul theory:-

This is one of the natural outcomes of dependent origination theory. As per dependent origination theory, there is no ‘is’ or ‘is not’, no ‘being’ or ‘not being’, but only ‘becoming’. Everything in this world is changing continuously. Since a permanent and unchanging Atman cannot fulfill the ‘constant flux’ parameter, dependent origination theory give birth to the no-atman (Anatman) theory. According to this, there is no permanent entity, in the phenomenal world, that does not undergo change. This was Buddha’s firm doctrine. But there is a doubt shrouded here. Does Buddha propound the ‘anatman theory’ regarding the relative, mundane world only? Or was he applying this theory for both the mundane and trans-mundane (transcendental) plane[7]?

If Buddha’s position was former, i.e, there is no unchanging principle named Jivatman (or simply Atman) in human (relative plane of reality), then we must say that it is in accord with the Upanishads, if we admit that the central theme of the Upanishads is non-duality between Jivatman (Atman) and Paramatman ( Brahman)[8]. In fact, the Upanishads also propound that there is no ultimate individual soul (Jivatman/Atman) in human. Our thought about an unchanging entity like Atman in us and presumption that it is the true ultimate reality/Atman, is due to the avidya or ignorance in us. Buddha also suggested that there is no Atman inside us permanently. What we feel as Atman is a collective idea that our bodily functions give birth (i.e, Soul is a term that we gives for the combined operation of five skandas[9]) and this thought can be annulled by practicing eight fold path and realizing the four noble truths. Here Buddha clearly admits that ‘people may feel something, like an Atman, in them and they may experience this thing as unchanging’. That is, Buddha was not rejecting that ‘the people will not feel anything like Atman in them’. Instead Buddha was asserting that ‘the people may feel something like a Jivatman in them, but that conclusion is utterly wrong’. This was Buddha’s position[10] and this is similar with the Upanishad teaching.

The Upanishads says that the thought about an individual Soul (Jivatman/Atman) in human, is a product of avidya/ignorance[11]. By acquiring knowledge and practicing meditation, the people can get rid of the ignorance and then subsequently from the clutch of individual soul concept. He then realizes the supreme soul, Brahman. Likewise Buddha advocated his followers that ‘there is no real Atman inside body and if they feel so, they have to practice the noble eight fold path to get rid of that feeling’. The similarity in the stands of the Upanishads and Sri Budhha is indeed clear. 

Now come to the former stand. Was Buddha advocating that there is no supreme soul (Paramatman or any such equivalent concept) beyond the realm of mundane world, by rejecting the individual Atman? Actually, the rejection of the individual soul does not warrant the rejection of the supreme soul, especially since the Buddha have asserted many times that he had attained a highest level of existence, which is difficult to comprehend, beyond the realm of logic and only wise can attain[12]. Furthermore the state of Nirvana is oft said to be akin to the Brahman, though opposition views are also raised. Yet both the Brahman and Nirvana is a state where the aspirant can enjoy supreme bliss. The path that leads to this bliss is also somewhat same in both traditions. Upanishad lays importance to austerity, knowledge, discrimination, reflection (reasoning) and meditation. Buddhist way also includes many of these in a different style like understanding the four noble truths, practicing the noble eight fold path, meditation, self control, etc.

There are practical difficulties to reject an ultimate reality because relative, by default, indicates the existence of an Absolute. Without an absolute, relative cannot exist and sustain. While Buddha admit the changing character of the external world, he must have posited an absolute, without which relative cannot sustain. On the other hand if we think, all that exists is relative only, then we cannot distinguish and recognize relative as relative. Further more if there is no ultimate reality, then a Bhikshu will always be in the loopof Samsara; he will never attain Nirvana.

Yamakami Sogen points to the ultimate reality that Buddhists posits in later times,

While condemning as rank heresy, the theories of a universal creator and of an individual soul (hinatman), Buddhism not only acknowledges the permanence of the noumenal ego, but actually enjoins its adherents to train themselves in such a manner as to be able to attain union with the Great Soul of the universe, the technical term for which is Mahatman. The locus classicus for this injunction is a well known passage in Asanga’s Mahayanasutralankara sastra where it is recommended to the aspirant to Buddhahood to look upon the Universe as a mere conglomeration of conformations (samskaras), devoid of an ego and fraught with suffering, and to take refuge from the bane of individualism in the mightily advantageous doctrine of Mahatman.[13]

Also Buddha is often said to be propounded that, Buddha has attained a state of existence which is difficult to comprehend for the common man, who are un-wise[14]. But Buddha is not ready to explain the details because of the metaphysical character of the ‘existence’. Buddha’s teachings usually confines to the experimental world.




[1] The Buddha’s opposition to the Vedas is regarding the animal sacrifices contained in the texts. Buddha has approved that ‘the original and unaltered text of the Vedas as Apaurusheya’.
“The Buddhists have been equally deceived with Brahmins, in the estimate they have formed of the character of the Rishis. The power attributed to these revered sages by Buddhists is scarcely inferior to that of the Arhats, which we shall have to notice at greater length by and bye. By Sinhalese authors, they are represented as being possessed of superhuman attributes. In seeking to obtain Nirvana, it is great advantage of having been a Rishi in a former birth…… But Buddha denied that the Brahmans were then in the possession of the real Veda. He said that it was given in the time of Kasyapa (a former supreme Buddha) to certain Rishis, who, by the practise of severe austerities, had acquired the power of seeing Divine Bliss. They were Attako, Vamako, Vamadevo, Wessamitto, Yamataggi, Angiraso, Bharaddwajo, Wasetto, Kassapo and Bhagu. The Vedas that were revealed to these Rishis were subsequently altered by Brahmans, so that they are now made to defend the sacrifice of animals, and to oppose the doctrine of Buddha. It is on account of this departure from the truth, that Buddha refused to pay them any respect.”
—“The Sacred books of Buddhists compared with history and modern science” by Robert Spence Hardy. Page 30-31.
[2] Many non-Brahmin philosophers were prominently featured in the Upanishads and in Buddhist Sangha. The Upanishad teaching that ‘in the ultimate reality level, everyone is same’ had influenced the elites of that period and we hear sudra king Janasruti getting philosophical knowledge from the ascetic Rakva in Chandogya Upanishad and Sathyakama Jabala, even belongs to an unclear lineage, gets knowledge from the guru.
[3] Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Section V. This is a long chapter and cannot quote here.
[4] Rigveda I.116.12
[5] Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Sankarabhashya. Section 5.
[6] A constructive survey of Upanishadic Philosophy – R D Ranade. Page 52.
[7] This becomes a major concern especially as the Upanishads propose two states of reality; Relative reality (like external world), and a non-dual Ultimate reality, Brahman. As per the Upanishads, everything in relative reality has no independent existence of their own and their existence is rooted in the absolute reality, Brahman. So… was Buddha saying that there is no relative reality, called Jivatman, or ultimate reality, called Paramatman or Brahman? Or was he saying just, there is no relative reality, Jivatman?
[8] There are scholars, who argue that the Upanishads propose not the non-dual nature of Jivatman and Paramatman, but duality between them. But this article takes for granted that the Upanishadic doctrine is based on non-duality.
[9] Material form, sensations, perceptions, volition and consciousness are five Skandas in Buddhism.
[10] “The Tathagata sometimes taught that the atman exists and at other times he taught that the atman does not exist. When he preached that the atman exists and is to be the receiver of misery or happiness in the .successive life as the reward of its own Karma, his object was to save men from falling into the heresy of Nihilism (Uccheda-vada). When he taught that there is no atman in the sense of a creator or perceiver or an absolutely free agent, apart from the conventional name given to the aggregate of the five skandas, his object was to save men from falling into the opposite, heresy of Eternalism (Sasvata-vada). Now which of these two views represents the truth? It is doubtless the doctrine of the denial of atman. This doctrine, which is so difficult to understand, was not intended by Buddha for the ears of those whose intellect is dull and in whom the root of goodness has not thriven. And why? Because such men by hearing the doctrine of Anatman would have been sure to fall into the heresy of Nihilism. The two doctrines were preached by Buddha for two very different objects. He taught the existence of atman when he wanted to impart to his hearers the conventional doctrine; he taught the doctrine of anatman when he wanted to impart to them the transcendental doctrine.” – Prajnaparamita Sastra, Nagarjuna.

“The existence of the atman and of the Dharmas (i.e, of the Ego and of the phenomenal world) is affirmed in the Sacred Canon only provisionally and hypothetically, and never in the sense of their possessing a real and permanent nature.” -- Dharmapala in his commentary on the Vijnanamatra-sastra. (Both quotes citing from ‘Systems of Buddhistic thought’, by Yamakami Sogen.)
[11] Brahman reflecting on avidya is the Jiva, while Brahman reflecting on Maya is the Isvara.
[12] Brahma Jwala Sutta.
[13] Systems of Buddhistic Thought – Yamakami Sogen. Page 24.
[14] “… Into the mind of the exalted one, while he tarried, retired in solitude, came this thought: ‘I have penetrated this deep truth, which is difficult to perceive and difficult to understand, peace giving, sublime, which transcends all thought, deeply significant, which only the wise can grasp… For man, who moves in an earthly sphere, and has his place and finds his enjoyment in an earthly sphere, it will be very difficult to grasp this matter…” – Mahavagga. i.,5,2.