Advaita vs Buddhism

It is a falsely propagated notion that Advaita is similar to Buddhist philosophy.

I can think of at least 3 fundamental differences:

  1. Advaita is founded on the authority of the Veda (shabda-pramANam), whereas Buddhist philosophy rejects the validity of the Veda as a trustworthy source of knowledge.
  2. Advaita agrees with the Vedic realization of an ultimate universal reality (Brahman), whose nature is absolute existence-consciousness-bliss. Buddhism rejects the idea of such an ultimate reality.
  3. Advaita’s idea of salvation is a loss of individuality and merging into the universal reality Brahman. So the idea is that the individual expands into universality and eternal existence. Buddhism’s idea of salvation is complete annihilation of individuality. So the idea is that the individual ceases to exist, and that’s the end.

Adi Shankara debated with the Buddhist scholars of his day, which was at least a 1000 years after Buddha’s time. By Shankara’s time, Buddhist philosophy had undergone extensive changes. So we cannot be entirely sure what were the points of disagreement and debate. But the gist of it is that Adi Shankara successfully proved the logical fallacy of not having a universal ultimate “observer” reality, and also strengthened the Vedic emphasis on deep subjective experience of this ultimate reality. As a result of his efforts, the majority opinion about Buddhism’s conclusions weakened.

However, these very same aspects of Buddhism might appeal to some people.

Historically speaking, it was far easier for Buddhism to float around as an independent religion, cut away from its Hindu foundation, than for Hinduism itself to spread. Buddhism grew due to royal patronage, whereas Hinduism grew organically at the grassroots level in traditionally culturally Hindu lands. So Buddhism found more support outside India. A similar situation is also found with Judaism vis-a-vis Christianity. Judaism being the parent religion, was strongly rooted in traditional Jewish lands, whereas Christianity expanded rapidly outside Israel.

Author: Ram Abloh
June 7th, 2019

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