Which Philosophy Personally Appeals More to You, Buddhism or Advaita Vedanta?

(This is a repost of the answer that I wrote in Quora for the same question)

Both point to the same truth!

I have noticed that many people don’t agree when it is said both are the same, because they are only looking at both of them in philosophical level. When it comes to ultimate reality, no matter what words we use, they can be always misleading.

I am talking from my own experience. Oneness with the rest of the existence is a living reality for me. But I will back up my statements by quoting both Vedantic and Buddhist scriptures.

The main source of suffering in our lives is caused by identification. We get identified with our mind, our body, our thoughts, our emotions etc. This identification of mistaking something that is not Self as Self is termed as Avidya or ignorance. Ignorance causes us to think that there is a separate individual self which needs to be protected and enhanced.

In other words, we feel experientially that we are separate from the rest of the world. This separation causes us to crave for fulfillment. That is why Buddha said craving is the root cause of suffering. It is Avidya, the ignorance which causes craving. Buddha is talking about the immediate cause and Vedanta is talking about the original cause.

Some people will object to this by saying that Buddhism doesn’t say that there is something eternal. First of all, when you realize that time itself is an illusion, you will also realize that eternity is only an idea. Buddha was more specific and straight forward, while Vedanta is little compassionate and gives you something that your mind can grasp.

When anyone asked Buddha any metaphysical questions such as ‘Is there anything eternal’, Buddha was silent. It is called Noble Silence .He talked about the impermanence of aggregates, but what we call in Vedanta as absolute reality is not one of the aggregates. It is not anything that is objective. It cannot be put into words. But both Vedanta and Buddhism has actually hinted about this absolute reality with striking similarity.

See the below examples:

Vedanta:

“It is this Akshara (the Imperishable), O Gargi, so the knowers of Brahman say. It is neither gross nor subtle, neither short nor long, not red, not viscid, not shadowy, not dark, not the air, not the ether, not adhesive, tasteless, odourless, without the sense of sight, without the sense of hearing, without the vital principle, mouthless, without measure, neither interior nor exterior,. It eats nothing, nobody eats it.”

– Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3-8-8.

Buddhism:

“There is that dimension, monks, where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind; neither dimension of the infinitude of space, nor dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, nor dimension of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor staying; neither passing away nor arising: unestablished, unevolving, without support [mental object]. This, just this, is the end of stress.”

– Buddha (in Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (1))

Buddha directly talks about something that is eternal too, but he uses the word ‘unborn’:

There is, monks, an unborn— unbecome — unmade — unfabricated. If there were not that unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, there would not be the case that escape from the born — become — made — fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, escape from the born — become — made — fabricated is discerned

– Buddha (in Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (3))

So, why did Buddha reject Vedas when Vedanta says that Vedas are the only authority?

We need to take Buddha’s time into account. Buddha lived sometime around 800 BC- 600 BC. It was during those times when many rishis were able to realize that there is something beyond the benefits that was got from mere rituals..Vedic rituals only focused on materialistic benefits that people could enjoy in three worlds. They were never about ultimate reality. That is when two great upanishads, Brihadaranyaka upanishad and Chandgoya upanishads were compiled. It must have taken a century or two; Buddha started talking to people at the same time period. So, we can safely conclude that when Buddha was alive, upanishads were not a part of Vedas.

This will raise many objections. Because, many people believe that Vedas are eternal and infallible. Even Shankara believed so. But, consider the following verses from Brihadaranyaka upanishad and the commentary from Shankara:

From chapter 6, section 4:

Verse 6: If man sees his reflection in water, he
should recite the following Mantra : ‘ (May the
gods grant) me lustre, manhood, reputation,
wealth and merits.’ She (his wife) is indeed the
goddess of beauty among women. Therefore he
should approach this handsome woman and
speak to her.

Shankara’s commentary:

If perchance he sees his reflection in water, he
should recite the following Mantra : ‘(May the gods
grant) me lustre,’ etc. She is indeed the goddess of
beauty among women. Therefore he should approach
this handsome woman and speak to her, when she has
taken a bath after three ‘nights.

Verse 7 : If she is not willing, he should buy her
over; and if she is still unyielding, he should
strike her with a stick or with the hand and
proceed, uttering the following Mantra, ‘I take
away your reputation,’ etc. She is then actually
discredited.

Shankara’s commentary:

If she is not willing, he should buy her over,
press his wishes through ornaments etc.; and if she is
still unyielding, he should strike her with a stick or
with the hand
, and announcing that he was going to
curse her and make her unfortunate, he should ·proceed,
uttering the following Mantra : ‘I take away your
reputation: etc. As a result of that curse, she comes
to be known as barren and unfortunate, and is then
actually discredited.

The above verses show how totally male dominative the society was those days.. Even though this doesn’t have anything to do with enlightenment, this example shows how one should not take everything just because it comes from a scripture or a person who is regarded as an authority.

And I don’t think that such infallible and eternal upanishads can advice someone to beat his wife if she doesn’t agree for sex.

You may say that these were later interpolations. But if that is the case, how could we trust Vedas in the first place?

But I know that Vedic verses such as Nasadiya Suktha and almost all upanishads have immense wisdom. We have to see them as collection of various poems composed by different people, instead of seeing them as infallible and eternal scriptures. I know that it is very difficult for many Indians to accept, because we are deeply blinded by pride and confirmation bias.

So, Why did Vedanta say that Vedas are only pramana (means of knowledge)?

Let us talk about three different methods of acquiring knowledge in general. (Vedanta uses six, but let us talk about three important ones here)

  1. Direct experience
  2. Inference
  3. Testimony from an authority.

In our daily life, we can get to know about many things through direct experience and inference. But we would never know the path to end the suffering unless someone tells us, simple!

So our ancient Indians selected the Upanishads as the only reliable authority to teach us the path towards liberation. It is just a standardization made by humans to avoid any conflict. And according to the social structure that prevailed those days, instead of relying any random person’s words as authority, it was reasonable to accept Upanishads as authority.

But we live in 21st century now. We are aware of things like confirmation bias and we are more keen towards human rights. While we do appreciate and show immense reverence to our ancient scriptures, it is nothing wrong in changing certain things to suit our modern society.

Also, Vedanta uses a certain teaching method called Adyaropa Apavada while Buddhism teaches directly and precisely. Vedanta is poetic where as Buddhism is empirical. Buddhism gives you the raw truth but Vedanta offers to you with added sweets and flavors. The only problem in Vedanta is that people may get stuck with the words and concepts.

You can find more details in my post here where I have included some additional points: Buddhism and Vedanta are the Same – A Detailed Comparison

If you are looking for a great spiritual authority to confirm the validity of Buddha’s message, then I will quote some of the words from Bhagwan Ramana Maharishi:

Disciple: Research on God has been going on from time immemorial. Has the final word been said?

Maharshi: (Keeps silence for some time.)

Disciple: (Puzzled) Should I consider Sri Bhagavan’s silence as the reply to my question?

Maharshi: Yes. Mouna is Isvara-svarupa.Hence the text: “The Truth of Supreme Brahman proclaimed through Silent Eloquence.”

Disciple: Buddha is said to have ignored such inquiries about God.

Maharshi: And for this reason was called a sunyavadin (nihilist). In fact Buddha concerned himself more with directing the seeker to realize Bliss here and now that with academic discussion about God, etc.

Author: Shanmugam P

I am a blogger and a self-published author. My book "The Truth About Spiritual Enlightenment: Bridging Science, Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta" is a guide to the ultimate freedom, bliss and oneness. The book is based on my own experience. My book "Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam" shows how all three major religions of the world lead to the same truth. I am a past student of Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal Golden Jubilee Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Sankarnagar, Tirunelveli District.

3 thoughts on “Which Philosophy Personally Appeals More to You, Buddhism or Advaita Vedanta?”

  1. I have read your book and just gave the review on amazon, thank you so much for the blog & the book.
    My 2 cents here.
    1) If anybody wants to start the spiritual path/Journey, one must attend some basic course from any of the gurus to understand and experience how spirituality feels to onself. It could be either sadhguru/sri sri ravi shankar/Vivekananda-Vedanta Society/Vipassana meditations.
    As you mentioned, one should not get trap into the cult of the organisations and miss the real path for ultimate goal. Real path should be your lone path after gaining spiritual knowledge from the gurus and you only can help yourself to experience the ultimate bliss. You are on yourself for ultimate path.
    2) We do not have to criticize any gurus for their cult behavior, I think that they are helping some extent for this society and motivating the people for their spiritual journey. I believe they know what they are doing and they know how the karma works also if they mislead people. For example: Nithyananda
    Thank you Shanmugam for your knowledge and guidance.

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  2. Nietzsche:
    “Everything is subjective,” you say; but even this is interpretation.
    The “subject” is not something given, it is something added
    and invented and projected behind what there is.- Finally, is it
    necessary to posit an interpreter behind the interpretation? Even
    this is invention, hypothesis. (Will To Power)
    We set up a word at the point at which our ignorance begins,
    at which we can see no further, e.g., the word “I,” the word “do,”
    the word “suffer”:-these are perhaps the horizon of our knowledge,
    but not “truths.” (Will To Power)
    Everywhere language sees a doer and a doing; it believes in will as the cause; it believes in the “ego”, in the ego as being, in the ego as substance, and it projects this faith in the ego-substance upon all things—only thereby does it first create the concept of “thing.” Everywhere “being” is projected by thought, pushed underneath, as the cause; the concept of “being” follows, and is derivative of, the concept of “ego.” In the beginning there is that great calamity of error that the will is something which is effective, that will is a capacity . Today we know that it is only a word. (Twilight of the Idols)
    The “inner world” is full of phantoms … : the will is one of
    them. The will no longer moves anything, hence does not
    explain anything either — it merely accompanies events;
    it can also be absent. The so-called motive: another error.
    Merely a surface phenomenon of consciousness some –
    thing alongside the deed that is more likely to cover up
    the antecedents of the deeds than to represent them. …
    What follows from this? There are no mental [geistigen]
    causes at all. (Twilight of the Idols)
    Men were thought of as ‘free’ so that they could become guilty; consequently, every action had to be thought of as willed, the origin of every action as lying in the consciousness. (Twilight of the Idols)
    There are no durable ultimate units, no atoms, no monads: here, too, “beings” are only introduced by us. . . “Forms of domination”; the sphere of that which is dominated continually growing or periodically increasing and decreasing according to the favorability or unfavorability of circumstances. . . “Value” is essentially the standpoint for the increase or decrease of these dominating centers (“multiplicities” in any case; but “units” are nowhere present in the nature of becoming)—a quantum of power, a becoming, in so far as none of it has the character of “being.” (Will to Power)
    Two successive states, the one “cause,” the other “effect”: this is false… It is a question of a struggle between two elements of unequal power: a new arrangement of forces is achieved according to the measure of power of each of them. The second condition is something fundamentally different from the first (not its effect): the essential thing is that the factions in struggle emerge with different quanta of power. (Will to Power)
    Is “will to power” a kind of “will” or identical with the concept “will”? Is it the same thing as desiring? or commanding? Is it that “will” of which Schopenhauer said it was the “in itself of things”? My proposition is: that the will of psychology hitherto is an unjustified generalization, that this will does not exist at all . . . one has eliminated the character of the will by subtracting from it its content, its “whither?” (Will to Power)
    If we eliminate these additions, no things remain over but only dynamic quanta, in a relation of tension to all other dynamic quanta: their essence lies in their relation to all other quanta, in their “effect” upon the same. (Will to Power)
    In our science, where the concept of cause and effect is reduced to the relationship of equivalence, with the object of proving that the same quantum of force is present on both sides, the driving force is lacking: we observe only results, and we consider them equivalent in content and force. (Will to Power)
    The victorious concept of “force,” by means of which our physicists have created God and the world, still needs to be completed: an inner world must be ascribed to it, which I designate as “will to power.” (Will to Power)
    There is no will: there are only treaty drafts of will that are constantly increasing or losing their power. (Will to Power)
    Through thought the ego is posited; but hitherto one believed
    as ordinary people do, that in “I think” there was something of
    immediate certainty, and that this “I” was the given cause of
    thought, from which by analogy we understood all other causal
    relationships; However habitual and indispensable this fiction may
    have become by now-that in itself proves nothing against its
    imaginary origin: a belief can be a condition of life and nonetheless
    be false. (Will To Power)
    One would have to know what being is, in order to decide
    whether this or that is real (e.g., “the facts of consciousness”); in
    the same way, what certainty is, what knowledge is, and the Iike.-
    But since we do not know this, a critique of the faculty of knowledge
    is senseless: how should a tool be able to criticize itself when
    it can use only itself for the critique? It cannot even define itself!”
    (Will To Power)
    Tbe assumption of one single subject is perhaps unnecessary;
    perhaps it is just as permissible to assume a multiplicity of subjects,
    whose interaction and struggle is the basis of our thought
    and our consciousuess in general? A kind of aristocracy of “cells”
    in which dominion resides? To be sure, an aristocracy of equals,
    used to ruling jointly and understanding how to command?
    My hypotheses: The subject as multiplicity.
    Pain intellectual and dependent upon the judgment “harmful”:
    projected.The effect always “unconscious”: the inferred and imagined
    cause is projected, follows in time.
    Pleasure is a kind of pain.The only force that exists is of the same kind as that of the will: a commanding of other subjects, which thereupon change.
    The continual transitoriness and fleetingness of the subject.
    “Mortal soul.” Number as perspective form. (Will To Power)
    Continual transition forbids us to speak of “individuals,” etc;
    the “number” of beings is itself in flux. We would know nothing
    of time and motion if we did not, in a coarse fashion, believe we
    see what is at “rest” beside what is in motioll. The same applies
    to cause and effect, and without the erroneous conception of
    “empty space” we should certainly not have acquired the conception
    of space. The principle of identity has behind it the
    “apparent fact” of things that are the same. A world in a state
    of becoming could not, in a strict sense, be “comprehended” or
    “known”; only to the extent that the “comprehending” and “knowing”
    intellect encounters a coarse, already-created world, fabricated
    out of mere appearances but become firm to the extent that this
    kind of appearance has preserved life-only to this extent is there
    anything like “knowledge”; i.e., a measuring of earlier and later
    errors by one another. (Will To Power)

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  3. A very great and enlightening blog post. You are helping me sort out some issues that I have been having with regards to religious doctrines and which doctrines I believe are “true.”

    Because of Vedanta, I now seem to live as non-dual consciousness. Because of this, I am starting to calm down mentally and emotionally, and I am now better able to analyze these interesting religions with an unbiased mind. It is certainly true, as you have said eloquently in this blog post, that Vedantins (not just Indians, but Westerners like myself as well) have a tendency to be unfairly “fundamentalist” with regards to their preferred doctrine/religion.

    I feel that Vedanta and Buddhism are fingers pointing at the moon. Speaking as someone who learned Vedanta, I would say that the moon is my own Self. Here and there, this and that, within and without, near and far, all things as all things. Vedanta and Buddhism (as well as other non-dual traditions like Shaivism, Taoism, and later Buddhist traditions like Zen) all seem to point to the same Absolute Non-Dual Self that Vedanta so eloquently points to. I feel that, in honour of the non-duality that these traditions point to, we should try to be like Ramakrishna and his disciple, Swami Vivekananda. Both of those men saw the unity of these different traditions. It does not make sense to me that we would speak about non-duality but then fall into the trap of playing the “my religion is better than your religion” game.

    Thank you. Good day.

    Like

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