Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism (The Mahayana Context of the Gaudapadiya-karika)

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  • Book Name Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism (The Mahayana Context of the Gaudapadiya-karika)
  • Author Richard King
  • Language, Pages Engish, 342 Pgs. (HB)
  • Last Updated 2024 / 02 / 20
  • ISBN 9788170305583, 8170305586

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Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism (The Mahayana Context of the Gaudapadiya-karika)
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This book provides an in-depth analysis of the doctrines of early Advaita and Buddhism that has important implications for the question of the relationship between Hindu and Buddhist thought. The author examines the central doctrines of the Gaudapadiya-karika in a series of chapters that discusses early Advaita in relation to the Abhidharma, Madhyamaka, and Yogacara schools of Buddhism. The question of the doctrinal diversity of Indian Buddhism is also discussed through an analysis of the concept of ‘Buddha-Nature’ and its relationship with Vedantic thought.

“The complex relationship between the Vedantic world of ideas and that of the Mahayana Buddhists has for a long time been either completely ignored by traditionalist Hindu scholars, or summarily paid lip service to by Western scholars as a form of ‘crypto-Buddhism.’ Therefore, a thoroughgoing and well-documented investigation of each and every major Vedantic work’s indebtedness to the Buddhist conceptual framework is of great importance for the understanding of Indian philosophical progress.”


There is always the risk that in the study of the thought forms of a philosopher one will superimpose a level of systematic development that does not exist. This has happened to a certain degree in the study of Sankara. Much of the debate about what is or is not an authentic Sankarite work stems from two different attitudes to the study of individual Indian philosophers and their various scholastic works. The first attitude, a somewhat rigid model, upholds the "monolithic" principle. On this view Sankara = "the author of the Brahmasutra - bhasya" and any deviation from the doctrines and linguistic forms of that work are taken to be firm evidence for the non-authenticity of a text. The second model proposes that an Indian philosopher, as a human being, has undergone some development in both linguistic and doctrinal realms. Despite- the tradition which affirms that Sankara died at a very young age, upholders of the second approach have attempted to classify texts into "early," "middle," and "late" compositions. For instance, if the Gaudapadiya-karika-bhasya is an authentic work of Sankara`s then it would seem to be one of his earliest works since it displays an immaturity and uncertainty that is not found in the commentary on the Brahmasutra. The GK’s commentator is either ignorant of Buddhist terminology and doctrines, or naively careless in his attempts to "cover up" their appearance in this Vedantic text.


Of course, these two conceptions of Sankara are caricatures. No scholar of any repute would actually purport to follow either as I have outlined them. However, in my opinion, it is the more liberal model that is closer to the actual historical situation. One wonders sometimes to what extent the verses passed down to us are the systematic exposition of an Indian philosopher or merely a collection of sayings from different periods of the author’s teaching career. How many redactors, editors, compilers, and thinkers have been involved in the transmission of a text from its original author(s) to us today? This poses a further problem for the scholar dealing with an ancient religious text, i.e. to what extent do scholars impose a level of doctrinal unanimity and systematization upon what may be composite material? Such hermeneutical problems in the final analysis tend to be unresolvable in the absence of any substantial historical information. Consequently, we cannot know for sure what historical and personal circumstances lead to the composition of the Gaudapadiya-karika or its commentary. An awareness of this fact, however, should temper any over-confident conclusions on these issues.


In our enthusiasm to understand and label the doctrines of various philosophers it is easy to fall into overly simplistic categories. No system of thought can be completely autonomous and it is important to recognize that in India, as much as anywhere else, the dynamic interplay between differing religious and philosophical traditions is a major factor in the development of any given system of thought.


In the early stages of any new movement, there must be some interaction with what may later become an opposing tradition. This much is clear from an analysis of the major texts of Indian philosophy. This reflects the fact that darsanas are structured in opposition to rival points of view or perspectives. It is a common feature of philosophical sastras to find the views of an opponent put forward first, the purva- paksin, and then refuted on the way to one’s final position (siddhanta). In the early stages of a developing philosophy there is little or no option but to adopt some of the concepts and linguistic forms current at the time. This combined with the "new insight" forms the basis for the new religious or philosophical movement. It should not be surprising then to find much evidence of Buddhist influence upon the Gaudapadiya-karika, which is an example of a philosophical school Advaita Vedanta in an early stage of formation. What has surprised many, however, is the extent of the Buddhist influence upon what is clearly a Vedantic text.


As the only available example of an uncompromising Advaita-vada before the Sankara school, the Gaudapadiya-karika is of unparalleled importance for an understanding of the roots of Advaita Vedanta, the school which since Sankara’s time has been the predominant orthodox interpretation of sruti. Surprisingly, little work has been carried out on the Gaudapadiya-karika. Most scholars who have looked at the text have done so as a means to an end, that is in order to gain a better understanding of the thought of Sankara, considered the major figure, if not the "founding father," of Advaita Vedanta. In general, there appears to have been an undue emphasis placed upon the works of Sankara as representative of the "quintessence of Advaita philosophy." Consequently, there has been a lack of interest in the Gaudapadiya-karika, a text which remains the only major example of a pre-Sankarite formulation of Advaita.



“King’s fine grasp of Mahayana thinking enables him to read the Gaudapadiya-karika with insight and develop his argument with cogency.”



Richard King is Lecturer in Religious Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Stirling, Scotland.



  Acknowledgements xi
  Abbreviations xii
  Introduction 1
  Recent Work on the Gaudapadiya-karika 13
  Outline of the Monograph 11
1 The Date and Authorship of the Gaudapadiya-karika 15
  The Identity and Date of Gaudapada 15
  Authorship of the Gaudapadiya-karika 21
  The Relationship Between the First and Second Prakaranas 21
  The Relationship of GK II, III, and IV 31
  The Gaudapadiya-karika and Bhavaviveka 35
  The Author of the Fourth Prakarana and Buddhist Scholasticism 43
  Conclusion 45
2 The Vedantic Heritage of the Gaudapadiya-karika 51
  The Three Foundations (Prasthanatraya) of the Vedanta-Darsana 51
  Vedanta-Darsana 51
  The Upanisadic Heritage of the Gaudapadiya-karika 52
  Cosmogonic Speculation in the Upanisads 56
  Psychology in the Upanisads 58
  The Four States of Experience 61
  The Mandukya Upanisad 65
  The Bhagavadgita and the Gaudapadiya-karika 68
  The Brahmasutra 70
  Doctrines of the Brahmasutra 72
3 The Abhidharma Context of Non-Origination (Ajativada) 87
  The Non-Origination of Dharmas-Absolutism and the Svabhava Debate in Buddhism 87
  The Sarvastivada Abhidharma 91
  The Nature of Samskrta and Asamskrta Dharmas 98
  The Sautrantika Position: Asamskrta-Nairatmya 104
  The Unique Particularity of Dharmas-A Mahayana Critique 108
  The Non-arising (Anutpada) and Immutability of Dharmas 110
4 Non-Origination in the Gaudapadiya-karika: Early Vedantic Ontology and Madhyamaka Buddhism 119
  Mahayana Buddhism and the Fourth Prakarana of the GK 119
  The Two Truths in the Mahayana Tradition: The Nature of Samvrti 120
  The Two Truths in the Gaudapadiy-akarika 124
  Foundations of Non-Origination: The Paradox of Change 126
  Nagarjuna’s Refutation of Absolutism (Svabhavavada) and the Gaudapadian Response 131
  Emptiness (Sunyata) and Non-dualism (Advaita) 133
  Non-Origination and Emptiness: The Madhyamaka and Advaita Perspectives 137
5 Asparsa-yoga in the Gaudapadiya-karika 141
  Asparsayoga as a Meditative Technique 144
  The Four States of Experience in the Agama-Prakarana (GK I) 146
  Meditation on the Phoneme OM 147
  Asparsayoga as a Description of the Ultimate State 148
  The Attainment of Gnosis (Jnana) in the GK 149
  Asparsayoga: The Gaudapadian Phenomenology of Perception 143
  Non-contact (Asparsa) and Representation-Only (Vijnapti-matra) 154
  The Yogacara Phenomenology of Perception 158
  The Non-Veridicality (Vaitathya) of Waking and Dream Experiences in the GK 168
  Maya in the Gaudapadiya-karika 175
  The Meaning of the Term ‘Asparsayoga’ 179
6 Gaudapadian Inclusivism and the Mahayana Buddhist Tradition 183
  The Gaudapadian Conception of Buddhism 184
  The Theory of Non-Conflict (Avirodhavada) in the GK 194
  Inclusivism in the Gaudapadiya-karika 196
  The Bhavavivekan Response to the Vedantic Inclusivism of the GK 199
7 Absolutism in the GK and the Mahayana: the Tathagatagarbha Texts 205
  The Tathagatagarbha Texts 206
  The Systematization of Indian Tathagatagarbha: The Ratnagotravibhagasastra 217
  A Question of Hermeneutics: Is There a Mahayana Absolutism? 222
  Tathagatagarbha and Two Types of Emptiness in Tibetan Mahayana 227
  The Gaudapadiya-karika and Tathagatagarbha Buddhism 231
  Conclusions 234
  Appendix: A Running Translation of the Gaudapadiya-karika 243
  Notes 259
  Bibliography 317
  Index 331
  Index of Verses 339

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