Assimilation with the Vedanta

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Asanga and Vasubandhu perfected Vijnaanavaada. With this, the Buddhist philosophy entered the phase at which, except for a few differences, it became easy for it to enter the Vedanta, and for the Vedanta to assimilate and absorb it. In fact, even its doctrine of causation underwent serious transformation.

Taking the whole of Buddhism into account, we find four conceptions of causation in it.

FIRST is the doctrine of dependent origination. According to it, although the cause is necessary for the effect, it has to die before the effect comes into being and there can, therefore, be no material cause that can constitute the material of the effect.

SECOND is the concept of the Sarvaastivaadins that the effect is an aggregate of the constituents, which continue as the constituents so long as the effect lasts. Third is the concept of transformation and evolution (parinaama) of the Vijnaanavaadins. Fourth is the concept, similar to that of Sankara, that the cause remains unaffected (vivartakaarana) in spite of giving rise to the effect.

If the highest Consciousness (Vijnaana) or Nirvana is eternally present, and if, out of it, the world comes, without at the same time affecting its purity, then this cause is the same as that which Sankara accepted and propounded.

The development of the doctrine of the Buddha's body also led Buddhism into the Vedanta. The Lokottaravaadins of the Hinayana held that the true body of the Buddha could not have been mundane. Then it must be the truth of the Buddha's being, nirvana, suunya, etc. It must be the dharmakaya, the body identical with dharma, the Truth, the essential nature and law of the world and reality.

The concept of dharma in Buddhism is so comprehensive that it can mean anything and everything in the universe. Vasubandhu defines dharma in his Abhidharmakosa as anything that can be known, a thing, a category. In the Mahayaana, when the truth of all dharmas becomes the ultimate Vijnaana, Suunya, the body of the Buddha, Bhutatathataa, etc, the true dharma becomes all of them. For Buddhism, dharma also means the law, the doctrine, the truth taught by the Buddha. But what his doctrine pointed to was the ultimate reality. So dharma came to mean the highest reality.

In between the historical, mundane body of the Buddha and his dharmakaya (divine body), the Buddhists introduced other bodies, corresponding to different spiritual levels. If we ignore the many sub-divisions, we find three bodies of the Buddha. One is the nirmanakaya or the mundane body that taught the Hinayana doctrine. Second is the sambhogakaya or the body of enjoyment that enjoyed teaching the Mahayana doctrine to the highly evolved souls.
THIRD is the dharmakaya or the body of ultimate reality that is the essential nature of the Buddha.

The highest of these levels is identified with ultimate reality, which can be realized inwardly by mind. Indeed, Buddhism rejects the ideas of Supreme God and the individual atman. This rejection is only in favour of ultimate Vijnaana (Consciousness), which is in no way different from the Brahman of the Upanisads. The whole Mahayana, except the Maadhyamika, denies the independent reality of the material world, which is very similar to the Upanisadic doctrine that ‘All this is verily the Brahman'. The Maadhyamika just stops short of this conclusion.

Besides, Buddhism, from its very beginning, accepted all the gods of the orthodox, conservative religion, although rejecting the Supreme God as the creator. In spite of rejecting the Brahmanic religion of sacrifices, it accepted the Mimamsa doctrine of ethical potency as a creator and controller of the world for every individual, and made the potency a part of the aggregate of formative forces (samskaaraas).

The Buddhist conception of Maya and Avidya, particularly in the Vijnaanavaada, is little different from that of the Advaita Vedanta. The Buddhist equation of the two with the suunya as that which disappears like a dream at the time of enlightenment is acceptable to the Vedanta, according to which the world disappears when the Brahman is realized.

The Advaita incorporates in toto the Buddhist definition of every one of the three ideas - Maya, Avidya and Suunya - as that which neither is, nor is not, nor is both, nor is neither. The Vedanta schools also incorporate the idea of the Void, though in a positive way, saying that it is a state of the Supreme Godhead, in which the world is about to be created, but not yet created. In other words, the void is the indeterminate state of objectivity before it becomes the determinate state of plurality.

Thus, practically every doctrine of Buddhism, in its latest phases in India, became assimilated in one way or another to some school of orthodox tradition. When so assimilated, it ceased to appear as Buddhist.

 

K. R. Paramahamsa is an author of book Buddhism In Scripture and Practice

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