Brahman in Vedanta and Buddhism
*-Alakśendra Priya Vṛkarāja
Adi Śankaracarya, a 9th Century mystic and Vedantic revivalist, established four mathas1 during the latter half of his thirty two short years on the Earth. These maṭhas were established based on a unified, but evolving philosophy of the Identity of the individual soul, Atman with the universal soul, Brahman. Each maṭha was established based on the mahāvākya or “great sayings” extracted from the Vedas and given during the initiatory rights of each respective devotee occupying the pith, or head spiritual seat of the newly founded math. These mathas developed and practiced their philosophies, which later as a whole would come to be known as Advaita Vedanta.
ṛg-veda - ऋग्वेद
mahāvākya: prajñanaṁ brahma - प्रज्ञनं ब्रह्म
śiṣya2: hastamalak - हस्तामलक
pīṭha3: govardhana pīṭha
pīṭha location: Jagannath Puri, (Orissa) in Eastern India
Prajña means higher intellect and intuition which is Brahman. This is the identity of intellect with the Atma. prakriṣta jñapti dhīvṛti viṣeśa. Prajña is decisive knowledge, higher intelligence and the capacity to retain what is learned. Both Śankara and Kashmir Shaivism established that prajña is the synonym of Brahman. Prajñanam can also be considered the discriminatory sense that comes with higher wisdom.
The ṛg-veda is a huge book full of mantras. The two components of these mantras are stutiḥ and prārthanā, Adorations to the Lord and Prayers. Śankara chose this mahāvākya because stutiḥ and prārthanā have descended as the revelations of a higher order,which can be comprehended by the followers of the tradition through the higher intellect.
mahāvākya: aham brahmasmi - अहं ब्रह्मास्मि
śiṣya: śureśvarācarya - सुरेश्वराचार्य
pīṭha: śaradā pīṭh
pīṭha location: Dwaraka (Gujarat) in Western India
The yajurveda deals with fire oblations; this includes homa and yajña. In yajña, man, with determination and action, offers everything to the lord because everything belongs to the lord. He says, idam na mama - इदन्न मम, this does not belong to me. It belongs to Indra, Prajapati, or to Brahman. "Aham" is related to the Brahman/Atman. "Asmi" is in the present tense according to Vedic Grammar, meaning "I do exist". That existence is Atman.
mahāvākya: tat tvam asi - तत् त्वम् असि
śiṣya: pādamacarya - पद्माचार्य
pīṭha: dvārikā pīṭh
pīṭha location: Śṛngerī (Karnataka) in Southern India
Sāmaveda consists of musical chants in praise of the Brahman. "Tat" means "that" while "Tvam" means "thou". "Asi" means "art". The intellectual faculty in a person says to his or her own self, "you are that". You are not this flesh or bone you are that Atman. All the laudations in the sāmaveda reveal Tat Tvam Asi.
mahāvākya: iam atma brahma - इं आत्मा ब्रह्म
śiṣya: toṭkācarya- तोटकाचार्य
pīṭha: jyośimaṭha pīṭh
pīṭha location: Badarikashrama (Uttarakhand/Uttaranchal) in the Himalayas of Northern India
The atharvaveda is the applied form of the other three Vedas. It is vijñāna - विज्ञान, it is all sciences and applied sciences for healing, etc.
All of those mahāvākyas are the bed rock of Advaita Vedanta. These great sentences, or great aphorisms are all related to the Atma. Advaita Philosophy of the Vedanta is the quintessence of neti neti - नेति नेति, meaning "not this, not this". This is a method of understanding the Brahman/Atma by what it is not. Also known as negative theology, it can be found in many other philosophical traditions throughout the world. After establishing the four pīṭhas, Śankara would have been around the age of thirty, nearing the end of his life. We now turn to the nirvanaśeśtaka, which will show us the summary of Śankaras teachings after the establishment of the four pīṭhas and his ultimate travel to Kedarnath.
śivo'haṁ śivo'haṁ śivo'haṁ śivo'haṁ
I am Śiva, I am Śiva, I am Śiva, I am Śiva
नो बुध्य-हंकार-चित्तानि नाहं न च घ्रान नेत्रे।
हं भोजनं नैव भोजा न भोक्ता चिदानन्दः रूपः शिवोऽहं।४।
I am not food, nor do I partake food. I am meant for food; I am as it is Cidanandaḥ, which always abides in Śiva, the supreme bliss of being conscious of the Brahman.
मृत्यु-र्न शंका न मे जातिभेदः पिता नैव मे न वा माता चजन्म।
I am not death, nor am I any form of superstitions or genetic family. I am neither father or mother, nor am I born.
भन्धु-र्न मित्र गुरु-नैव शिष्यः चिदानन्दः रूपः शिवोऽहं।५।
I am not bound by any relations. I have no kith or kin. I have no friends, teachers or disciples. I am as it is Cidanandaḥ, which always abides in Śiva, the supreme bliss of being conscious of the Brahman.
हं निर्विकल्पी निराकाररुपो लघुत्वात्-च सर्वत्रसर्वेन्द्रियाणाम्।
I abide in the immutable one8, without any option. I am without any form9. I am not the smallest or the biggest within the organs of the body. I am not the minutest particle that exists.
चा संगतं नैव मुक्ति-र्न मेयः चिदानन्दरुपः शिवोऽहं शिवोऽहम् ।६।
I am not in the sangha10 or mukti11, I am as it is Cidanandaḥ, which always abides in Śiva, the supreme bliss of being conscious of the Brahman.
इति-श्रीमत्-शंकराचार्य विरिचितं निर्वाणषटकं सम्पूर्णम्
Mokśa is only one of the stages of Hinduism, There is one more stage after Mokśa known as nirvana. Nirvana is what was emphasized by the Buddha. Its origin is in Hindu thought and in fact the Buddha was a Hindu. Śankara said that what Buddha preaches is not different than Hinduism. The extension of muhkti is nirvana. Because the meaning of nirvana is already in Hinduism, Śankara explains what nirvana actually means according to the Vedas. He says "Śiva" plus "aham", which becomes wide, or expansive and becomes śunya, achieving nirvana.
Critics of Śankara say that Śankara is Prachanabaudha A Cryptobuddha. Baudha means practice of Buddha. It is said that Śankara preaches Buddhism, but through Hinduism. In the previous six ślokas we saw how Śankara uses Buddhist techniques of "neti neti" to impart the knowledge of Brahman/Atma. To reach that state of emptiness which brings liberation one must analyze that with which we identify and know, in order to reach the understanding that the Brahman/Atman is not that. Once a person has exhausted all possible identifications and explanations they are left with nothing, śunya, and the realization of truth and liberation is achieved, that there is no difference. This is the essence of Advaita.
*Born and residing in Miami, Florida. Alexander Conroy has studied Sanskrit and Kashmir Shaiva Philosophy with Dr. Chaman Lal Raina throughout his Masters Degree program in Religious Studies at Florida International University.
He was born a Catholic, yet has more active interest in Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish philosophy and mysticism. He has a background in psychology and computer science. He has written many articles comparing mystical and esoteric traditions.
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