Madhyamika Buddhism Vis-a-vis Hindu Vedanta

(A Paradigm Shift)

                                                            Acarya Dharmavajra

                                                               (Mr. Sridhar Rana)


      Many famous Hindu Indian scholars like Radha Krishnan, Svami Vivekananda and Nepalese scholars like Mr. Chudanath Bhattarai, Svami Prapannacharya have written that Buddhism is a reaction, a reformation of Hinduism. The Buddha tried to reform some of the malpractice within Hinduism. That is all. He never wanted to create a new religion. In short, according to these scholars, Buddhism is correct Hinduism without any malpractice and evils and what is called Hinduism is the malpractice and distorted form of the vedas. There are three problems with this interpretation of the Buddha's teaching. One is that if these authors really believe that the Buddha came to reform evils, malpractice and wrong interpretation of the vedas then why are they themselves still following these evils and malpractice and not practicing the Buddha's teachings, the reformed form of the Vedas? Hoe warped and distorted are the minds of people who with one breath proclaim the Buddha as the great reformer of Hinduism and then turn around and call Buddhism (what Buddha taught) wrong. Some of these scholars have even gone to the extent of claiming that although the Buddha actually only wanted to reform the Vedas, his disciples misunderstood him and created a new religion. How illogical to believe that Buddha's own disciples did not understand him whereas Hindu Svami's and Panditas 2000 years later really do understand the Buddha's message. The second problem with this interpretation is that it implies that Buddha was a Hindu. Simply because Suddhodana was a king and therefore called a Ksatriya is absolutely no proof that he was a he was a Hindu. If the Buddha was really a Hindu why did he not call himself the great Brahmin or Mahabrahman like the great ksatriya Vishvamitra.?  It is strange to call Buddha a proponent of Brahmanism when he called himself the great sramana or Mahasramana. Although a lot of research remains to be done about Sramanism. it can certainly be said that a Sramana is not a Sramanism is itself as old as Brahmanism. Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, also called himself a Sramana. If Buddha was merely reforming the Vedas, why did not call himself a Neo-vedic, Neo-Brahman or true Brahman i. e. Mahabrahmana? Why did he call himself a Mahasramana?


        I would like to ask those scholars and their followers these questions. Nowhere in the Hindu Shastras are Sraman considered as part of the vedic fold. And the Buddha called himself a Mahasramana. It was the custom of India from ancient times to call kings Ksatriyas be they of the Sramana or Brahmana group. And even if Suddhodana was of the Brahmin school) of which there is absolutely no proof), the Buddha certainly did not seem to have taken after Brahmanism but rather after Sramanism. Sramanism cannot be called Brahmanism by any historical standard. The third problem is that the teachings found in Buddhism do not on any way appear as a reformation of Hinduism. Any one who was studied Buddhism (If I am not talking about prejudiced Hindu oriented scholars) can see that there is a major paradigm shift between Hinduism and Buddhism, in fact, between all other religious systems and Buddhism. A paradigm shift cannot and should not be misconstrued as a reform. Reforms are changes brought about within the same paradigm. Paradigm shifts are changes in the very foundations. The very basics are completely different. In such cases, it is completely confused thinking to state that one paradigm is a reformation of another paradigm. So Sramanism is a system of religious based on a completely different paradigm than Hinduism and as such it would be gross error to say Buddhism is a reformation of Vedic Hinduism. It is not a reformation, but a shift in paradigm. Even if the Vedic paradigm was the older, they are still different paradigms. But it is even questionable whether the Vedic paradigm is really older than  the  Sramana paradigm. After all, although Buddhism begin with Shakyamuni, Sramanism is much older, and according to the findings of the Indus valley civilization, was in the Indian sub- continent even before Brahmanism.

        It is the purpose of this paper to show how Brahmanism and Buddhism are built on two totally different paradigms even though they share the same language. It is this sharing of the same language that has fooled most scholars, especially Hindu biased scholars who have therefore failed to be sensitive to the fact that these are two completely different paradigms with very little in common except the same cultural background, and their language, metaphor, analogy, and words. But as we shall see, the same analogies etc. express two different conceptual structures (paradigms). When we compare the Advaita Vedanta, especially as interpreted by Shankara and Madhyamika, whether be it the Svatantric from of Bhabya or Prasangic form of Candrakirti, the sharing of the same language, culture and analogies while talking about two different paradigms becomes obvious. Because of the use of the same language structure (be it Pali or Sanskrit) and the same analogies to express two different paradigms many Vedantins or scholars of Buddhism with Vedantic backgrounds have been fooled into thinking Buddhist Madhyamika is a re-interpretation of Hindu Vedanta. Many think Buddhism is the negative way to the same goal (via negativa) and Hindu Vedanta the positive way ( positiva). One uses negation and the other affirmation but the Shunyata of Buddhism is a negative way of talking about the Brahman of the Vadanta. The issue here is not via negative or via positive at all but rather two different paradigms, or two different goals based on two different paradigms, or two diametrically opposed answers to the burning issue of mankind developed out of diametrically opposed paradigms. In fact, the Buddha, after long years of Brahmanic as well as Sramanic meditation, found the concept of Brahma (an ultimately real, unchanging, eternal substratum to this ephemeral transient world) not only inadequate to solve the basic issue of humanity- i. e. sorrow (dukha) and questioned the very existence of such an eternal substratum; but also declared that a search for such an imagined (Skt. Parikalpita Atman) Brahman was a form of escapism and therefore not really spiritual but spiritual materialism.

           Since the concept of Brahman, the truly existent (Skt. paramartha sat) is the very foundation of Hinduism (as a matter of fact some form of an eternal ultimate reality whether it is called God or Nature is the basis of all other religious systems); when Buddhism denies such an ultimate reality (Skt. paramartha satta) in any form, it cuts at the very jugular veins of Hinduism. Therefore it cannot be ontologically, epistemologically, and soteriologically  said that Buddhism reforms Hinduism, The affirmation of a ground (Skt. asraya) which is really existent (Skt. paramartha sat) and the denial that such an existent (Skt. satta) can be found anywhere, with in or without, immanent or transcendent, are two diametrically opposed paradigms- not simply variation or reformations of each other. The Webster Dictionary defines re-form: to amend or improve by change of form or removal of faults or abuse. The example I have given above of an eternal base without which Hinduism in its own language would be atheistic (skt. nastik) and the denial (without any implied affirmation) (Skt. prasajya pratisheda) of such an eternally existing unchanging base by Buddhism cannot be said to be a reformation but a deconstruction of the very roots of the Hindu thesis. That is why Buddhist is not a reformation of Hinduism but a paradigm shift from the paradigms on which Hinduism is based.    


          Many Hindu scholars believe that without an ultimate eternal reality then there can be no liberation from the changing, transient samsara; therefore even though the Buddha denied the ultimate reality, he could have meant only conceptually really existing reality, no the eternal ultimate reality which is beyond concepts. Otherwise there cannot be liberation. The fault with this kind of thinking is that it is measuring the thesis (which is no thesis) of the Buddha (or interpreting the Buddha) from within the Hindu paradigm. Remaining within the Hindu paradigm, an eternal ultimate reality is a necessity (a necessary dead end as the Buddha saw it) for the soteriological purpose, i. e. for liberation. Since according to the Buddha there is no Brahman- such a concept being merely an acquired fabrication (skt: parikalpana) learned from wrong (skt: mithya) scriptures, hankering after, searching for such a Brahman is necessary a dead end which leads nowhere, let alone liberation. The Buddhist paradigm if understood correctly, does not require an eternal something or other for liberation. In Buddhism liberation is not realizing such a ground but rather a letting go of all grounds, i. e. realizing groundless. In fact holding on to any ground is ignorance, according to Buddhism. So in the Buddhist paradigm, it is not only not necessary to have an eternal ground for liberation, but in fact the belief in such a ground itself is part of the dynamics of ignorance. We move here to another to major difference within the two paradigms. In Hinduism liberation occurs when this illusory samsara is completely relinquished and it vanishes; what remains is the eternal Brahman which is the same as liberation. Since the thesis is that samsara is meraly an illusion, when it vanishes through knowledge is there were no eternal Brahman remaining it would be a disaster. So in the Hindu paradigm (or according to Buddhism all paradigms based on ignorance) an eternal unchanging, independent, really existing substratum (skt. mahavastu) is a necessity for liberation else one would fall into Nihilism. But since the Buddhist paradigm is totally different, the question posed by Hindu scholars: How can there be liberation if a Brahman does not remain after the illusory samsara vanishes in Jnana? is a non question with no relevance in the Buddhist paradigm and its Enlightenment or Nirvana.

          First of all, to the Buddha and Nagarjuna samsara is not an illusion but like an illusion. There is a quantum leap in the meaning of these two statements. Secondly, because it is only 'like an illusion' i. e. interdependently arisen like all illusions, it does not and cannot vanish, so Nirvana is not when samsara vanishes like mist and the Brahmin arises like a sun out of the mist but rather when seeing that the true nature of samsara is itself Nirvana. So whereas Brahman and samsara are two different entities one real, the other unreal, one existing, the other non-existing, samsara and Nirvana in Buddhism are one and not two. Nirvana is the nature of samsara or in Nagarjuna's words shunyata is the nature of samsara. It is the realization of the nature of samsara as empty which cuts at the very root of ignorance and results in knowledge and results in knowledge not of another thing beyond samsara but of the way samsara itself actually exists (skt vastusthiti), knowledge of Tathata (as it is ness) the Yathabhuta (as it really) of samsara itself. It is this knowledge that liberates from wrong conceptual experience of samsara to the unconditioned experience of samsara itself. That is what is meant by the indivisibility of samsara and nirvana (Skt. samsara nirvana abhinnata, Tib: Khor de yer me). The mind being samsara in the context of Dzog chen, Mahamudra and Anuttara tantra. Samsara would be substituted by dualistic mind. Hindu paradigm is world denying, affirming Brahman. The Buddhist paradigm does not deny the world; it only rectifies our wrong vision (skt. mithya drsti) of the world. It does not give a dream beyond or separate transcendence from samsara. Because such a dream is part of the dynamics of ignorance, to present such a dream would be only to perpetuate ignorance.

             To Buddhism, any system or paradigm which propagates such an unproven and unprovable dream as an eternal substance or ultimate reality, be it Hinduism or any other "ism", is propagating spiritual materialism and not true spirituality. To Hinduism such a Brahman is the summum bonum of its search goal, the peak of the Hindu thesis. The Hindu paradigm would collapse without it. Since Buddhism denies thus, it cannot be said honestly that the Buddha merely meant to reform Hinduism. As I have said, it is a totally different paradigm. Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism are all variations of the same paradigm. So truly speaking you could speak of them as reformations of each other. But Buddhism has a totally different paradigm from any of these, not merely from Vedic- Hinduism. This leads us naturally to the concept of the truths (skt. satyadvaya). Both Hindu Vedanta and Madhyamika Buddhism (and for that matter all forms of Buddhism) use this concept to clarify its paradigm. But again the same words point at two different paradigms. First of all the concept of two truths clearly stated as in Buddhism comes into Hinduism only after Sankaracharya (Seventh/ eight century) whereas the Buddha himself used these words. But even though Sankara copied the use of these words from Buddhism and also copied many other conceptual words from Nagarjuna to elucidate his Vedantic paradigm, the paradigm that he tries to clarify with these words different. In many places these conceptual wordings and analogies are forced to produced the meaning that is required for the Veantic paradigm. In the Vedantic context, the relative truth (Skt. samvritti satya) is that this samsara is an illusion and the ultimate truth (skt. paramartha satya) is that there is an ultimately existing thing (skt. paramartha satta) transcending/ immanent in this world. The relative truth will vanish like a mist and the both transcendent and immanent Brahman will appear as the only Truth, the world being false. To sum it up, the Vedantic ultimate truth is the existence of an ultimate existence or ultimate reality. Reality here is used as something which exists (skt. satta).                                                   

         However, the Buddhist ultimate truth is the absence of any such satta i. e. ultimately existing thing or ultimate reality. That is the significance of Shunyata- absence of any real, independent, unchanging existence (skt. svabhava). And that fact is the ultimate truth of Buddhism, which is diametrically opposite to the ultimate truth of the Hindu Brahman. So Shunyata can never be a negative way of describing the Atman- Brahman of Hinduism as Vinoba Bhave and such scholars would have us believe. The meaning of Shunyata found in Sutra, Tantra Dzogchen, or Mahamudra is the same as the Prasangic emptiness of Chandrakirti, i. e. unfindability of any true existence or simply unfindability. Some writers of Dzogchen and Mahamudra or Tantra think that the emptiness of Nagarjuna is different from the emptiness found in these systems. But I would like to ask them whether their emptiness is findable or unfindable; whether or not the significance of emptiness in these systems is also not the fact of unfindability- no seeing as it could also be expressed. Also some Shentong scholars seem to imply that the Shentong system is talking about a different emptiness. They say Buddha nature is not empty of qualities therefore, Buddha nature is not merely empty, it also has qualities. First of all the whole statement is irrelevant. Qualities are not the question and Buddha nature being empty of quality or not is not the issue. The Buddha nature is empty of Svabhava (real existence). Because it is empty of real existence, it has qualities. As Arya Nagarjuna has said in his Mula Madhyamika Karika: "All things are possible (including qualities) because they are empty "Therefore the whole Shentong/ Rangtong issue is superfluous. However, in Shentong, Buddha nature is also empty and emptiness means unfindable. In short, the unfindability of any true existence is the ultimate (skt. paramartha) in Buddhism, and is diametrically opposed to the concept of a truly existing thing called Brahman, the ultimate truth in Hinduism.

           Now let's examine relative truth (skt. samvritti satya). In Hinduism, the relative truth is the fact that this world is an illusion (skt. maya). It has no existence. In Buddhism, samsara is interdependently arising. It has relative existence (skt. samvritti satta) according to Tsong Khapa or it appears conventionally according to Gorampa Senge and Mipham. It is like an illusion (Skt. mayavat). Like all illusions, it appears interdependently based on various causes and conditions (Skt. hetu pratyaya). It may be like an illusion but it is the only thing we have, there is nothing behind it or beyond it which can be called an ultimate thing or reality. The ultimate reality or truth or fact in the Buddhist sense is the mode of existence of this illusion like samsara i. e. (Skt. nihsvabhava) empty of real existence. So here too we find two different parameters to two different paradigms. Now let us investigate some of the words used by both paradigms. One word that has created great confusion is non- dualism. First of all Hindu Vedanta is advaita and Madhyamika Advaya. Although they are sometimes use interchangeably by both systems, their meanings are as used in the two paradigms differ. In Hindu Vedanta, non dualism (advaita) means one without a second Skt: dvitiyam nasti, Chandogya Upnishad). What is the meaning of this? That there is only Brahman which really exists, nothing else really exists. In other words- the world does not exists at al- it is only am illusion. The true English word for this is Monism according to Webster Dictionary. The view that there is only one kind of ultimate substance. Since, as we have been seen already there is no kind of ultimate substance in Madhyamika Buddhism the meaning advaya (non-dualism) cannot be like in Hinduism. The Madhyamika scriptures very clearly defines advaya as "dvaya anta mukta" free from the two extremes. The extremes are the of eternalism into which the Hindu vedantic Brahman falls and Nihilism into which many materialistic system like Charvak fall. But it goes deeper. Non dual knowledge (skt. advaya jnana) is the state of mind which is soteriologically free from grasping at the two extremes of knowing in terms of "is" and "is not" and ontologically free from being "existing" or "non existing" Advaita jnana is however the knowledge of the one and only truly existing substance or reality called Brahman in Hinduism. It could also be called by any other name. Even if the Brahman is defined as beyond "is and" is not" as in the Yogavasistha, it is only a round about way of saying that there is an ultimate reality, Brahman, which is beyond concepts of existing and non existing and therefore it still falls within eternalism. There is also the use of :"free from the existence and non existence" in Buddhism and beyond existence and non existence in Hinduism. "Beyond" implies a third something which is neither; but "free" does not necessarily implies a third something which is neither. Some Shentongpas define the Tathagatagarbha exactly like the Brahman of the Vedanta without realizing it and even claim as a higher mediator's view which is not accessible to lower class logicians etc.  


           Perhaps it is most apt now to talk about two other words used commonly by both paradigms: Nisprapanca (Tib: thro-me) and avikalpa (Tib: Tog- me). Nisprapanca means non fabricated and avikalpa means non- conceptual. In the context of Hinduism, it is the Brahman (the ultimate reality, the ultimate real, the ultimate existing) which is beyond concepts and non- fabricated. It also means a non-fabricated and non-conceptual knowledge of that Brahman. When I am using ultimate reality as a synonym for the Brahman. I am using reality to mean something that exists as per the Webster's Dictionary. I am aware that reality also connotes "fact" i. e. truth and with such a meaning could be used in Buddhism to mean ultimate fact/truth. But as one of its connotation is existing, it is hazardous to use the word ultimate reality in any Buddhist context and it is always safer to use the word ultimate truth instead. Some English translations of Dzogchen, Mahamudra etc. have used the word ultimate reality for Rigpa, co- emergent wisdom (skt. sahaja jnana) Tathagata garbha, rather indiscriminately without the authors even realizing that the use of such lax wording brings them not only dangerously close to Vedantins of one only dangerously close to Vedantins of one form or the other, but also they are actually using Buddhist texts to validate the vedantic thesis. If some of them object that their ultimate reality is empty while the Hindu ultimate reality is not; the Hindu can ask," then how it is an ultimate reality in the sense of ultimate existing"?  To avoid this confusion, it is safer and semantically closer to the Buddhist paradigm to use only "ultimate truth".

         Now coming back to Nisprapanca and Avikalpa, as for Buddhism, the first verse of Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamikakarika makes it clear that it is the "pratityasamutpada" the interdependent origination which is nisprapanca and beyond concepts and it is the wisdom that realizes this that is nisprapanca and avikalpa. No Hindu Vedanta would agree that the Brahman is interdependent origination or interdependently originated. The same can be said of words like acintya (inconceivable), anupamya (inexpressible) or apratistha (non- established) etc. for which we need not write separately. This naturally leads us to three crucial words and concepts used in the two paradigms.: Emptiness, (skt. Shunyata), Interdependent Origination (Skt. pratityasamutpada) and Brahma (the infinite, eternal, unchanging, Truly existing, Non conceptual, unfabricated reality). Many Hindu writers from the 5th/6th century onwards until today have tried to show that the Brahman and Shunyata, mean the same thing. The Yogavasistha (7th/8th century) has even very explicitly stated that the Brahman and Shunya are the same reality. (Chapter 3/5/5-6) Modern authors like Dr. Radhakrishnan, Svami Vivekananda and Vinova Bhave have also tried to show that they mean the same reality. Je Tsong Khapa says in his "Pratityasamutpada stuti Subhasita Hridaya" whatever is dependent on conditions is empty of real existence. This statement makes it clear that dependent origination and Shunyata are two labels for the same condition - two sides of the same coin. Now I would like to ask these Hindu authors "Is Brahman (which according to them is the same as Sunya), dependently originated or origination? Even here in the two words there is a difference. The Brahman can never be a dependent origination because it is a really existing thing. It can only be a dependently originated thing I am sure no Hindu would like to say this of the unchanging eternal independent Brahman. On the other hand, the significance of Shunyata is "dependant origination" or nisvabhava (non real existence). The Tathagatarbha, Mahamudra, Rigpa (Vidya) etc cannot also, empty but not nisvabhava. Such as definition of Shunya (as not nisvabhava) would not only contradict the entire Buddhist paradigms but also would force such so- called Buddhist writers to fall into the "all-embracing" arms of the Vedantin Brahman. If Rigpa, Mahamudra etc. is described without the correct emptiness, then such words as Mahamudra, Dzogchen, Rigpa, Tathagatagarbha are only new names given to the ancient concept of Brahman as found in the Upanishads (some of which are 600 years than the Buddha. Such misconcepts of ultimate realities come not from Buddhist but actually from Hindu Brahman in the garb of Buddhist scholar monks. Some Buddhist writers give lame excuse about meditative experience & theory being different. I would like to reiterate that such a meditative experience is not Buddhist but Hindu because it fits perfectly with Hindu theory of reality. If meditative experiences are going to be different from the theory on which they are based, that would be tantamount to saying that the base has no relation to the path and fruit, or that path is one and the actual experience of the fruit (meditative experience is another). At least the Hindu base- path-fruit is more consistent. They do not being with non real existence and end up with some kind of subtle existence. The Buddhist meditation experience must coincide with its base (basic paradigm). Yes, there is a shift from conceptual to non-conceptual during meditation but that does not necessitate a shift from non-real existence to real existence. If reality is conceptually non real existent it does not become real existent non conceptually. The true Buddhist meditative experience or "non real existence "not" real existence". Some may say that non real existence is only a concept. But the same can be said of real existence. Since Brahman is real existence by itself, independent etc. it cannot be a synonym for Shunyata. Some Shentong Buddhist writers who have not studied Hindu philosophy well enough try to give invalid excuses by implying that the Atma-Brahman of Hinduism is imagined , fabricated, whereas the shentong Tathagatagarbhas is non conceptual (eg. Jamgon Kongtro Lordo Thaye- Gaining certainly about the view If one has read the Vedanta Shastra one finds that the Atma (self) of the Hindu is also free from mental elaboration like  the Tathagatagarbha. So the crux of the different lies in emptiness not in non-elaboration, non conceptual, luminous etc. The Atma of the Vedanta is also not accessible to inferior logicians and not negated by logic because it is uncreated, unconditioned, self existing, self-luminous and beyond concept. So just stating that the Hindu Atman is fabricated and our Tathagatagarbhais not, does not really solve anything. The Atma is what remains after everything else that is not it, has been negated. Last of all the Atman is not the ego (Ahamkar, Tib. ngak dzin) which is what the Shentong logic negates.              
             Another word that has confounded many Hindu Svamis is the unborn (skt. ajat or anutpada), unproduced. In the context of the Hindu Vedanta it means that there is this ultimate reality called the Brahman which is unborn i. e. never produced by any thing or at any time, which means it always was. A thing or super thing even a non thing that always existed and was never ever produced at any period in time which is separate from this born, illusory samsara. In the Buddhist context, it is the true nature of samsara itself which although relatively appears to be "born" ultimately is never born. Advayavajra in his Tatvaratnavali says " The world is unborn says the Buddha". As Buddha Ekaputra Tantra (Tib. Sangye Tse tsig tantra) says, the base of Dzogchen is the samsara itself stirred from its depth. Since the Samsara stirred from its depth is interdependently originated, i. e. not really originated i. e. unborn and since the samsara is only relatively an interdependently originated thing but ultimately neither a thing nor a non- thing (bhava or abhava) that truly exists, the use of the word unborn for Brahman (which is definitely not samsara) and for samsara itself in Buddhism are diametrically opposed. The true meaning of unborn (anutpada) is dependently originated (pratityasamutpanna) which is as already mentioned the meaning of a nisvabhava (non real existence) or Shunyata. None of these can be a synonym for Brahman or anything that ahs kind of ultimate real existence, even if it is called Tathagatagarbha. There is no acceptance of an ultimate existence in any Buddhist Sutra. It is interesting that an exact word for paramartha satta in Tibetan Buddhism is very rarely used. It shows how non-Buddhist the whole concept is. One has to differentiate between satta (existence) and satya (truth) although they are so close and come from the same root in Sanskrit. Even in the Ratnagotra there is one single sentence (Skt. Yad yatra tat tena shunyam iti samanupasyati yat punartravasistam bhavati tad sad ihasthiti yathabhutam prajanati): "whatever is not found know that to be empty by that itself, if something remains knows that to exist as it is)." This statement is straight out of the Vaibhasika sutras of the Theravada (Sunnatavagga) and Sautrantik Abhidharma Samuccaya. It seems to imply an affirming negative. First of all this statement contradicts the rest of the Ratnagotravibhaga if it is taken as the ultimate meaning in the Sutra (as Shentongpas have done). Secondly since it is a statement of the Vaibhasika school (stating than an ultimate unit of consciousness and matter remains), it cannot be superior to the Rangtong Madhyamika. Thirdly its interpretation as what remains is the ultimately existing Tathagatagarbha contradicts not only the interpretation that found in other Buddhist sutras as "itar etar Shunyata" (emptiness of what is different from it) but also the shentong interpretation of Tathagatagarbha contradicts all the other definition of the Tathagatagarbha found in the Ratnagotravibhaga itself.

        This brings us to the wrod Nitya- i. e. eternal or permanent. The Hindu use of the word Nitya for its ultimate existing reality, viz. Brahman is Kutastha Nitya i. e. something remaining or existing unchangingly eternal, i. e. something statically eternally. Whatever the word Nitya is used for the ultimate truth in Buddhism, the Great Pandita Santa rakshita has made it very clear in his Tatvasamgraha that the Buddhist Nitya is parinami nitya i. e. changing, transforming, eternal in another words dynamically eternal. The Buddhist Nitya is more accurately translated in English as eternal continuum rather than just eternal. I would like to remind some western translators of Nyingma and Kagyu texts that it is either the view of Shantarakshita's Svatantrik Madhyamika or the prasangika view that is given during the "Tri" instruction of Yeshe Lama as the correct view of Dzogchen. Now finally I would like to show how the same analogies are used in the Vedantic Hinduism and Buddhist Madhyamika to illustrate different thesis. The most famous analogy in both Vedanta and Madhyamka is that of the snake seen in the rope. In Vedanta you have the famous Sankaric verse rajjau sarpa bhramanaropa tadvat Brahmani jagataropa i. e. as a snake is imputed/ superimposed upon a piece of rope so is the samsara imposed upon the Brahman. Only the rope or the Brahman is real the snake-samsara is unreal and does not exist at all. They are only illusions. If one studies teh analogy one realizes that it is not such an accurate analogy. The rope is not eternal like Brahman. Furthermore the rope is not asamskrita (unconditioned like Brahman so it is not really good example or the proof of a truly existing independent Brahman. It is a forced analogy. And rightly so, because it is a Buddhist analogy squeezed to give Vedantic meaning.

             As for Buddhism the rope stands for pratityasamutpada for which it is a good example being itself interdependently arisen from pieces of jute etc. and the snake imputed upon it stands for real existence which is imposed on the interdependently existing rope appearance. Here it is the rope that is the true mode of existence of the samsara (unlike the snake representing samsara in Vedanta) and the snake is our ignorance imputing samsara as really existing instead of experience it as interdependently arisen. This interdependence or emptiness is parinami nitya i. e. an eternal continuum and this applicable to all phenomena. Of course, this interdependence is the conventional truth whereas nisvabhavata which is synonymous to emptiness is the ultimate truth in Madhyamika. Although interdependence is itself conditioned, in reality it is unborn and empty, its true nature is unconditioned. But this is not an unconditioned reality like Brahman but an unconditioned truth i. e. the fact that all things are in reality empty, unborn, uncreated. Likewise the Mirror reflection analogy is used to show that just like images which have no existence at all appear and disappear on the permanent surface of the mirror so too samsara which is an illusory reflection on the mirror of Brahman appears on the surface of the Brahman and disappears there. In Buddhism this metaphor is used to show that samsara is interdependently arisen like the reflection on the mirror. The mirror is only one of the causes and conditions and no more real that the other causes and conditions for the appearance of the reflection of Samsara. Here too the mirror is a very poor metaphor for the Brahman, being itself interdependently arisen like the reflection on it. Actually such analogies are good examples for pratityasamutpada and not for some eternal Brahman. The mirror Brahman metaphor is only forced. The same can be said of the moon on the pond analogy and rainbow in the sky analogy. 

           In conclusion, I would like to sum it up by stating that Buddhism (especially Mahayana/ Vajrayana) is not a reformulation of Hinduism or a negative way of expressing what Hinduism as formulated. Hinduism and Buddhism share a common culture and therefore tend to use the same or similar words. They do share certain concepts like Karma and re-incarnation, although their interpretation differ. Hindu concepts of karma and therefore reincarnation tend to be rather linear whereas the Buddhist concept is linked with pratityasamutpada. The Theravada concept of pratityasamutpada is also rather linear but the Mahayana/Vajrayana concept is more non-linear multi dimentional-multi leveled-interdependent inter-latched. But all similarities to Hinduism ends there. The Shunyata of the Buddha, Nagarjuna, Candrakirti is by no accounts a negative way of describing the Brahman of the Upanishad- Samkara-Vidhyaranya groups. I would like to dedicate this article for the long lives of Ven. H. E. Urgyen Tulku, H. E. Chobgye Tri Chen, H. H. Sakya Trizin and Ven. Karma Thinley Rinpoche and to the 17th century siddha Vajracharya Surat Vajra of Nepal, Tache Baha. May his lineage be re- instated again.


 Back to top