Nibbana as a type of consciousness: how does Buddhism differ from Advaita Vedanta?

Continuing the discussion from Consciousness without surface:

Inspired by this question. Assume for the sake of debate that Nibbana is, in fact, a type of consciousness. How then does Buddhism differ from Advaita Vedanta? What distinctions could be made between Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism or Buddhist practice if Nibbana is assumed to be a type of consciousness?

NOTE: The subject matter of this thread is not to debate whether or not Nibbana is a type of consciousness. For the purposes here, you must assume that Nibbana is in fact a type of consciousness. If you are unwilling to do this, then please kindly refrain from commenting as it will be off-topic.

Again, I implore people to please stay on topic for the sake of learning something and to refrain from impulses to debate whether Nibbana is a type of consciousness or argue for/against it. There are plenty of threads devoted to this latter topic where you can devote your energies, but here I’m just trying to understand the differences between Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism assuming that Nibbana is a type of consciousness.

:pray:

I appreciate your creating a new thread. To clarify, I do not believe Nibbana is a type of consciousness, but if one believes it is, it’s hard for me to see what the difference is between this and the Atman/Brahman of Vedanta.

1 Like

Namo Buddhaya!

What is this vedāntavāda?

As i understand it, there are several subtypes of the eternalists.

For example

  • Some believe their mind will become eternally stable & pleasant whilst distict from other minds, like parallel rivers.
  • Others believe their mind will become eternally stable & pleasant but not distinct from other minds, like rivers ending up as the ocean.

So they disagree on whether there is one eternal knower or many.

I think eternalists like the sutta very much because it is easy to interpret 99.9% favorably.

It is only the excerpts which directly criticize the eternalism that are icky to them. All the middle way stuff they just interpret in light of their extreme position.

What some Thai teachers call the “deathless citta” sounds to me a lot like “their mind will become eternally stable & pleasant whilst distinct from other minds, like parallel rivers.”
In terms of Advaita, we are referring to a consciousness that is “infinite, luminous all around”. Nondual, not subject to birth and death. If Nibbana is an endless consciousness, how is that not eternalism? And thus nondistinct from this rarefied Brahman, which literally just means “the highest”?
To play devil’s advocate, perhaps Nibbana is permanent, pleasure and Self in contradistinction to the three characteristics of samsara.

It does sound like it. Many believe things like ‘Buddha living in Nibbana’ this would be obviously wrong. It is more difficult when people start using qualifiers like ‘consciousness not dependent on spacetime’ or ‘consciousness not dependent on the six senses’ or ‘consciousness not dual’, then one has to question them on what they mean by these things.

1 Like

Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism are to general terms, how can we talk about “Buddhism” if there are controversies almost about everything what is in Pali Canon, and I believe there are such controversies also in Vedanta.

Perhaps less artificial division would be Buddhist ariyas and Vedanta, but again even if we define ariya as one who knows from his own experience, what he is talking about, this is no guarantee that his verbal formulations are perfectly proper and in full agreement with the way Suttas describe certan terms.

Also, presently it cannot be assume that other schools as Vedanta are totally devoid of ariyas. In Buddha’s time, there were many sekkhas who had to be born somewhere…

I don’t know almost anything about Vedanta, but I am familiar with Nisargadatta Maharaj Teaching. He rather uses term consciousness in usually Suttas meaning, as consciousness of something, and so it has nothing in common with nibbana. But he frequently uses term awareness which is equivalent to kind of impersonal consciousness as viññana anidasana.

And he seems to be know, what he is talking about, since he define immortality as cessation of conceit “I am” without any kind of knowkedge about Suttas.

Immortality is freedom from the feeling: ‘I am’. Yet it is not extinction. On the contrary, it is a state infinitely more real, aware and happy than you can possibly think of. Only self-consciousness is no more.

All hangs on the idea ‘I am’. Examine it very thoroughly. It lies at the root of every trouble. It is a sort of skin that separates you from the reality. The real is both within and without the skin, but the skin itself is not real. This ‘I am’ idea was not born with you. You could have lived very well without it. It came later due to your self-identification with the body. It created an illusion of separation where there was none. It made you a stranger in your own world and made the world alien and inimical. Without the sense of ‘I am’ life goes on.

3 Likes

Advaita Vedanta, as knigarian pointed out, also has different interpretations of their texts and final goal. Abraham Vélez de Cea argues, I think quite rightly, that at least with some interpretations of Advaita there would be no effective difference:

It is true that for Peter Harvey the unestablished consciousness experiencing nibbāna beyond death is non-self, but as long as he understands nibbāna beyond death as a permanent consciousness, his interpretation cannot avoid the extreme of eternalism. […] Just stating the non-self nature of the unestablished consciousness beyond death […] is not enough. If the difference between eternalist Buddhist and eternalist Hindu interpretations of early Buddhism is that for the Buddhists the consciousness of liberated beings after death is non-self or empty, whereas for the Hindus it is self and full, one has to conclude that the difference between them is mainly nominal. The true transcendent self that Hindu interpreters see […], and the non-self unestablished consciousness of Harvey […], are equally transcendent, free from ignorance, the conceit ‘I am’, and attachment to the concepts of ‘I’ and ‘mine’.

4 Likes

Eternalism in Suttas is a strictly technical term, and refers to wrong view, kind of attavada, inseparable from sakkayadithi.

In this particular case it should be seen as: He sees consciousness as a self … And so on.

Proposing consciousness as eternal or permanent nibbana not necessarily must fall into sasattavada.
Firstly: there is no one to see it as a self - which is in contradiction to sasattavada.

Secondly: By permanence is meant not eternal continuity of what has arisen but non-arising, non-disappearing and non-changing of what is present, in other words such eternity isn’t continuation in time, but cessation of time.

Whether it is so, or not, this is not important in this discussion, what is important it has nothing in common with sasattavada as it is defined in Suttas.

2 Likes

This is basically the point I wanted to arrive at. If the above is so, it is possible either that some in non-Buddhist traditions are realizing the deathless through a crypto-Eightfold Path, perhaps left by previous paccekabuddhas (I’ve long thought at least some of the Vedic rishis may have been paccekabuddhas), or under Buddhist influence they have gotten an idea of the goal without the means to reach it.
I see Nibbana as a goal utterly distinct from anything even offered by other religions, which is, as it were, totally invisible to anariyas.

1 Like

Only Buddhas teach this per definition because it is attaining & teaching this, when nobody else does, that makes them a Buddha.

Anybody who realizes nirodha in dependence on this Buddha’s teachings does so in dependence on the voice of another.

As i understand it, paccekabuddhas don’t establish anyone in ariyahood but themselves nor does their voice/declaration/texts.

Now as to whether it can be mixed up and pieces passed down and spread around allover such that people who don’t consider themselves buddhist end up realizing the 4 Noble Truths.

I don’t think so because only counterfeit dhamma will arise among outsiders and eventually the counterfeit dhamma corrupts the sangha from the inside. At that point even the sangha has no attainments let alone outsiders.

Consequently the texts disappear but the words will be around although nobody will understand what exactly is deathless & unmade and what is awakening as Buddhas taught it. At that point only a Bodhisatta can figure it out by doing his own work.

Paccekabuddhas do sometimes teach disciples, but they do not establish a Sāsana.

https://ancient-buddhist-texts.net/English-Texts/Jatakas/Dhp-290-Sankhas-Story.htm

2 Likes

My view is that Nibbana is not any form of consciousness, and actually has no even apparent parallels with which it could be confused in any other tradition, all of whose “liberations” are at best formless attainments.

That commentary also teaches that there can be several pacekkabuddhas at the same time.

It’s quite unbelievable to me.

Imagine if one Buddha says ‘let it be so and not otherwise’ whereas another Buddha says ‘let it be otherwise’. The world would rip apart.

I also thought like this.

Only ariyas can arrive at nibbana, cessation of being here and know, and the path they follow is true eightfold path. In Dhamma, as far as right view goes, the main division is between ariyas, and puthujjanas.

On the level of religions, the difference is that Pali contains the most reliable material and informations, how to practice.

In order to arrive at nibbana, disciple from other tradition must receive teaching undermining his belief that he is person living in the world, or at least suggesting specific line of action, which will result in such realisation.

Once one is ariya, no need for any kind of additional teaching, one is independent on others, he has Dhamma in his heart, so to speak.

And based on this knowledge, he can teach others. In comparison to Buddha’s Suttas, for sure it will be rather imperfect teaching, nevertheless it will contain doctrine of anatta.

1 Like

Maybe the question of eternalism is central to discussion topic, because Vélez de Cea argues that the difference between the Hindu/Brahmanic consciousness and Peter Harvey’s unsupported consciousness is nominal. The difference between eternalism and such views is also just nominal, is what he seems to imply. I tend to agree.

The standard description of eternalism reflects the most common eternalist view of the time, which is the Upaniṣadic permanent self that equals the universe. But this is not an exhaustive description of eternalists views. In the Nikāyas we also find various eternalist views that do not use the term ‘self’.

There is the Jain view of a soul/life force (jīva) that is different from the body. Is this a view of eternalism or not? The Jains don’t explicitly call it a self, so according to your standard it is not. But it actually is, of course. What makes something a form of eternalism is not what we call things, but what the view practically entails. The Jain view of a permanent jīva is a form of eternalism despite not being called a self.

Likewise, any kind of permanent consciousness is also eternalism, even if we don’t call it a self. Calling it such is just a nominal difference.

What we actually have to determine is not what we call things but whether in the time of the Buddha such a permanent consciousness would have been called a self. There is indication that it would. In an oft-repeated passage in the canon, the Buddha tells us how to determine what kind of consciousness is not a self:

"What do you think, bhikkhus, is consciousness permanent or impermanent?” - "Impermanent, venerable sir.” - "Is what is impermanent suffering or happiness?” - "Suffering, venerable sir.” - "Is what is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self’?” - "No, venerable sir.” (E.g. SN22.59)

Consciousness that is impermanent is not fit to be regarded as self. So the natural conclusion is that any type of consciousness that is permanent, is fit to be regarded as self.

In this context the translation ‘self’ for attā may be confusing the matter. The alternative ‘soul’, given by all Pāli dictionaries, is perhaps better. Based on ‘self’ one may argue that something is only an attā when identified with, but the translation ‘soul’ doesn’t have such issues. In the time of the Buddha any kind of essence in the being would have been considered an attā/soul, even if theoretically not identified with. This is also illustrated in SN22.95, which uses ‘essence’ (sāra) as a synonym for atta.

The time argument I find unsatisfying too. There are no discussions about this in the Pāli canon. The distinction between something being inside of time and outside of time isn’t made, and the standard description of eternalism doesn’t mention time either. The word eternal (sassata) in the Pali canon is just a synonym for constant (dhuva), permanent (nicca), and various other terms. And even if hypothetically it were outside of time, the consciousness you are suggesting should be considered constant and permanent. Otherwise, it would be inconstant and permanent. Therefore, by the synonymity it is sassata too. Again this argument seems to come down to a nominal difference between eternal and permanent, relying almost solely on the fact that English readers will somehow connect ‘eternal’ with time without showing that this would have been the case for sassata back in the days.

The reason I think the Buddha doesn’t fall into eternalism does not rely upon such nominal differences. It is much more simple: he doesn’t pose anything that is eternal. The full cessation of existence including all consciousness is constant and permanent—and we might perhaps even call it eternal, as some late canonical texts do. But it is not a thing or essence of any sort. Not a consciousness, not a mind, not a transcendent existing reality, not anything, and hence not a self either. And therefore it is not eternalism.

It also isn’t annihilationism, because here there actually is a fundamental difference, not a mere nominal one. Annihilationism is the destruction of an entity whereas the cessation of existence is the natural ending of mere processes. Significantly, this difference actually is explained in the discourses (e.g. SN22.85/MN22) whereas the differences you are suggesting, to my knowledge, are not.

8 Likes

In Advaita, consciousness (Brahman) is the only “real” thing, everything else is merely an appearance in consciousness, and therefore “unreal”.
This sounds quite different to the idea of Nibbana as consciousness without surface, or whatever.

I think many materialist scientist and neurologists nowadays do not anymore believe that there is really some mental entity like a small homunculus in the head, brain, body, or whereever, if they haver ever believed so. But still they believe there is also no rebirth. Merely mental processes cease at death and the material elements are re-used in nature.

So this materialism is not strictly an annihilationism?

By the way, do impersonal processes have fathers and mothers? It would not surprise me that this mundane right view ‘there is father and mother’ is introduced to cure those who take anatta to the extreme that there is no person at all but merely impersonal processes.

I have seen people say that they have not really a father and mother. People tend to have some self-view that one is not the khandha’s but something apart from that. Based on that one can say…i have no father and mother…Buddha does not want that. He feels that is not meritorous. I too :innocent:

2 Likes

Since we have very different ideas about Dhamma, it is rather unlikely we would get to agreement in the discussion on Dhamma, as long as both of us are quite satisfied with our ideas, which seems to me, it is the case.:smiling_face:

Perhaps the only thing we can do, is to just discover another point of disagreement. And it looks like we have just done it. :smiling_face:

All wrong views, as we can find them in Brahmajala, ultimately depend on sakkayaditthi, I believe no need to give here reference for you, but assuming some users are reading forum to increas their knowledge about Suttas:

“Venerable Elder, there are various views that arise in the world: ‘The world is eternal’ or ‘The world is not eternal’; or ‘The world is finite’ or ‘The world is infinite’; or ‘The soul and the body are the same’ or ‘The soul is one thing, the body is another’; or ‘The Tathāgata exists after death,’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death,’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists and does not exist after death,’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death’—these as well as the sixty-two views mentioned in the Brahmajāla. Now when what exists do these views come to be? When what is nonexistent do these views not come to be?

”When this was said, the venerable chief elder was silent. A second time and a third time Citta the householder asked the same question, and a second time and a third time the venerable chief elder was silent.

Now on that occasion the Venerable Isidatta was the most junior bhikkhu in that Saṅgha. Then the Venerable Isidatta said to the venerable chief elder: “Allow me, venerable elder, to answer Citta the householder’s question.”“Answer it, friend Isidatta.” [287]“Now, householder, are you asking thus: ‘Venerable elder, there are various views that arise in the world: “The world is eternal” …—these as well as the sixty-two speculative views mentioned in the Brahmajāla. Now when what exists do these views come to be? When what is nonexistent do these views not come to be?’”“Yes, venerable sir.”

“As to the various views that arise in the world, householder, ‘The world is eternal’ …—these as well as the sixty-two speculative views mentioned in the Brahmajāla: when there is identity view, these views come to be; when there is no identity view, these views do not come to be.”

“But, venerable sir, how does identity view come to be?”

“Here, householder, the uninstructed worldling, who has no regard for the noble ones and is unskilled and undisciplined in their Dhamma, who has no regard for the good persons and is unskilled and undisciplined in their Dhamma, regards form as self, or self as possessing form, or form as in self, or self as in form. He regards feeling as self … perception as self … volitional formations as self … consciousness as self, or self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in self, or self as in consciousness. It is in such a way that identity view comes to be.” SN 41 : 3

“World” is inseparable with the “self”, so while self isn’t mention explicitly, it is enough to fall into a wrong view just by holding any kind of idea about world. Despite seemingly variety of wrong views, all are inseparable from attāvada and are present only when on believes himself to be person, living in the world, in other words in the presence of sakkayaditthi.

@Green and @knigarian, hi! :slight_smile:

These are both really good points, which I think I can address together, because they come back to the same principle.

I made sure I wrote that an atta is an essence “even if theoretically not identified with”. Psychologically, however, the belief in some permanent entity in the person I think will always be accompanied by a sense of identity, even if very subtle. It’s not like such a permanent consciousness (or whatever permanent entity is proposed) would continue on without “me”. I’d be getting something out of it, namely some part of my being continues on. So although in theory one may pose an atta free from identity, in practice any such idea, when believed to be true, always goes together with some identification, with some sense of ‘I’.

This goes the other way too: if there is identification there is also a view of atta. This is one reason materialists are considered annihilationists. They still identify with something, be it the body or whatever, seeing it as the essence of their person, hence their self. This person or self they think ends at death, hence it is annihilationism.

The materialist scientists nowadays do not fundamentally different from the materialists at the time of the Buddha. In DN2 Ajita Kesakambala’s view is also explained without explicit mention of an atta. What he does is equate the person to the body which is made of the four elements, not to some “mental entity”.

By saying there is some real person-essence, he is still posing a self, as is clear from DN1, where the materialist view is described as annihilation.

Correct. Here we come back to the idea that the theory of a self psychologically can never be separated from a sense of self, even if theoretically it can.

The meaning of sakkāya is somewhat obscure, and the term hard to translate. Venerable Sujato discusses it here. I’m still processing his exact arguments, but on the whole I agree it is not just a sense of identity. (In fact, I pointed this out to him when commenting upon early translations.) Sakkāya is any kind of existence, apparently also if not identified with. Hence Sujato went from ‘identity’ to ‘substance’. If this is right, then it aligns with my interpretation that any kind of permanent essence (or substance) would be considered an atta. That would make any permanent consciousness also included in sakkāyadiṭṭhi. Sakkāyadiṭṭhi being the wrong view that things have a true essence/substance that lasts.

This reasoning feels far-fetched, and your interpretation is unique. This peculiar phrase on mother and father has been a matter of debate. We discussed it to some extent here. I don’t think it poses any real problems for either of our interpretations regarding nibbāna and consciousness.

We’re getting a bit off topic here, so for now I’ll leave it at this.