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Early buddhism and advaita vedanta

Isn’t early Buddhism almost exactly the same as Advaita Vedanta except Not self-vs true self?

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There are numerous key differences between any sect of Hinduism and Buddhadhamma

Buddhadhamma does not accept :

  • the Vedas, Brahmanas and other Hindu texts as an authority, or the idea that studying these texts will grant you insight
  • a creator God who rules the universe (Isvara) or an eternal source (Brahman)
  • animal sacrifice (found in Vedas and in some forms of modern Hinduism)
  • an unchanging self (atman)
  • any idea of caste (specifically caste as being divinely inspired) or of caste duty (svadharma)
  • the idea that worshipping a god will help you attain awakening

Hinduism lacks:

  • refuge in the three jewels
  • a full acceptance and understanding of the four noble truths
  • an understanding of anatman (not-self) and dependent arising

There are also numerous other differences, too many to name.

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I am not talking about Hinduism but only about advaita vedanta.
I mean the similarities in the teaching: for example:
Advaita Vedanta teaches that the cause of suffering is when the mind seeks gratification in impermanent sensual pleasures. That is craving. And that you suffer because you don’t know the truth. That is Avijja. Then they teach about samsara the round of rebirth and moksha instead of nibbana which is the end of rebirth. So that is the first and second noble truth. It is very similar to buddhism.

There is an absolute state that is free of suffering called Brahman which is similarly explained as nibbana. Third Noble Truth.

They teach different practices that lead to Moksha, fourth noble truth.

Basically everything important is found in both except that the buddha teaches no self and the vedantists teach true self.

My post applies to all sects of Hinduism, of which Advaita Vedanta is one.

This is all quite different than the four noble truths of Buddhism, even if you can make surface level comparisons.

Their path is totally different, it is based on studying the Vedas with a guru in order to realize the equality of atman-brahman (so they do not have the fourth truth and they do not understand the third truth).

Their view suffering and of how suffering arises is different. In Advaita, it arises from lack of recognizing your true self, which is a monistic pure consciousness, this is how they see ignorance, whereas in Buddhism, it is grasping at a self and not understanding dependent origination.

So, as I said, even though you can make surface level comparisons, once you go deeper, it is all quite incompatible.

This is why Adi Shankara attacks Buddhism in his works and why Indian Buddhists also wrote works attempting to refute Advaita etc.

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Advaita Vedanta was strongly influenced by Mahayana, so you will see similarities.

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I wouldn’t say “strongly” influenced. While there is noticeable evidence of Mahayana elements in the Gaudapadakarika, most later Advaitins ignored this and did not really use many Buddhist ideas and concepts. Even when later Advaitins like Shankara did adopt some ideas from Buddhist thinkers like Dignaga, they were mainly logical or neutral philosophical terminology, which were not really uniquely Buddhist. Obviously they had read Buddhists like the Vijnanavadins, but this does not mean they adopted many of their ideas. Just like the Buddhists read Hindu philosophy and responded to it, the Advaitins read Buddhists and responded to it. But this does not mean they borrowed their theology from Buddhism (their sources are always the Brahma sutras and the Upanishads).

I know there are some scholars who think this is the case, but the evidence is pretty meager. Later Vedantins also criticized Advaita as being ‘crypto Buddhist’, but these were sectarian attacks with little basis in reality

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Can you not also say that the path of Buddhism is studying the Suttas with a Teacher to realize not-self and nibbana?

And that Suffering arises from lack of recognizing not self?

Or that the Vedantists also teach that grasping at a wrong self is ignorance?

At what level does the incompatibility start?

Impermanence and anatta. Since there is this very fundamental difference, it colors their view of suffering, its arising, how it ceases and the path and makes it all incompatible with Buddhism.

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Something to be careful with when studying Advaita Vendanta is that any modern teachings you find about it are based upon the teachings of Shankaracharya. He lived around 700 BCE and had contact with Buddhists of that time and there are records of him arguing with them about non-dualism and about being united with Brahman. There were certainly inklings of substance monism in the early Upanishads but they were not cohesive until Skankara came along.

So it’s just a warning not to project things that we know backwards in time onto things they did not know then. The Advaita Vedanta has a long history of discourse with Buddhism because it’s younger than it, and likely has targeted arguments against it and stole some ideas too.

The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies has very interesting lectures on Hinduism and Shankara if you’re interested!

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Just to emphasize - the end of the path, Liberation, is completely different, as Javier says

So where in Early Buddhism, all things, including consciousness are subject to Dependent arising and ceasing. In Advaita the ultimate is seen as realising ‘pure consciousness’ and enduring forever in that state. So they are really diametrically opposed; Permanent Existence v/s non-self, non-existence, cessation.

In EBT terms my current understanding is that this would roughly equate to the 6th Jhana (or second Arupa Jhana) of Infinite Consciousness - which is a dependently arisen state. Rebirth (spontaneous or at death of the body), would be in the realm of Infinite consciousness, according to this framework.

This was the amazing thing the Buddha did - he went further… to see the dependently arisen nature of that state, right through to cessation. This is the hardest thing to see - the illusory nature of a Self… It is my belief that this was/is the special ‘power/gift’ of a Buddha, to be able to go right to the end, to see the cessation of mind consciousness, and to share this knowledge with the world, so that others on the Path can direct their effort in the right way (by putting in place the Noble 8 fold path) and direct attention in the right way through the meditative states and realise this for themselves.
SN56.11
As long as my true knowledge and vision about these four noble truths was not fully purified in these three perspectives and twelve respects, I didn’t announce my supreme perfect awakening in this world with its gods, Māras, and Brahmās, this population with its ascetics and brahmins, its gods and humans.

But when my true knowledge and vision about these four noble truths was fully purified in these three perspectives and twelve respects, I announced my supreme perfect awakening in this world with its gods, Māras, and Brahmās, this population with its ascetics and brahmins, its gods and humans.

Knowledge and vision arose in me: ‘My freedom is unshakable; this is my last rebirth; now there’ll be no more future lives.’”

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@Javier replied in good faith, but in your response you answer your own question and reject the information he provided. Why ask a question if you already know the answer (or are not interested in other perspectives?)

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Also, I want to emphasize, this is not just true for Early Buddhism or Theravada, but for all major forms of Buddhism (with very few minor exceptions - there are always exceptions of course).

Even in the most esoteric forms of Mahayana/Vajrayana, where it might sometimes seem like they are positing an eternal consciousness (like in Dzogchen for example, though this is actually mainly due to mistranslations and confusions), it is widely held that consciousness, even the most rarified forms, is empty of a self (and here, they follow Nagarjuna in this) and is not ultimately real or fixed. And furthermore, no Buddhist tradition posits a monistic consciousness, and this includes the Chan lineages which sometimes use the term “One Mind” - because this specific Chinese term does not mean monism in its specific context.

So, one may search far and wide among all the different forms of Buddhism, but you will not find the same view as Advaita Vedanta at all (even if there might be some closet eternalists here and there…).

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Advaita Vedanta is a (relatively) specific perspective, quite closely connected to Shankara. If you refer to Neo-Advaita then you find much more free teachers who don’t necessarily refer to the vedas anymore. Nor do they necessarily see consciousness as the ultimate source. So there you can find more similarities with aspects of old Buddhism.

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That’s correct as I have come to understand Neo-Advaita. Some teachers also claim that it’s a no-path “teaching”, where the pointing lands directly in the subject, and then one Is to stay as knowing until realizing not two.

Neo Advaitins are still monists.

What does “monist” mean?

Bexause I am interested in other views doesn’t mean I have to have the same views as everyone who replies. And I was not convinced and did ask about further details and shared my own views in more detail. But I am of course grateful for every contribution.

In this context it means they think that a single consciousness is the only thing that exists and that the universe and all sentient beings are illusions of this single eternal consciousness.

So even though Neo advaita may not refer to the Vedas and so on, they still have a view which is not compatible with Buddhadharma.

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Okay, thanks for clarifying it. I’ve came across this, found it quite interesting.

For the sake of enhancing clarity of the sheer magnitude of the Buddha’s/the Dhamma’s insight, neither existence nor non-existence applies :

"… Kaccāna, most of this world relies on a duality: existence and non-existence.
But one who accurately and wisely sees the arising of the world does not believe in non-existence,
And one who accurately and wisely sees the cessation of the world does not believe in existence…

‘Everything exists,’ Kaccāna, this is one extreme.
‘Nothing exists,’ this is the second extreme.

Without going to either extreme, the Tathāgatha teaches the Dhamma by the middle:

"Dependent on ignorance, there are mental formations… that is how this whole mass of dukkha arises.

However, when–through dispassion–ignorance completely ceases, mental formation ceases… that is how this whole mass of dukkha ceases." (SN 12.15; not my translation)

This push not to fall into that particular kind of duality is re-emphasized in the Buddha’s refusal to answer whether a Tathāgatha exists or does not exist after parinibbāna (MN 63 and 72). It is my understanding that the very nature of reality and of Awakening goes beyond any conception of existence and non-existence.

This may not get to what it is you mean to say, and for that I would apologize for seeming condescending or unnecessarily inserting myself: I merely want this particular facet to be present in this dialogue. :blush: :pray:

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