Search & Read
What Is Buddhism?
Tara: Good day! I am Tara.
I have being reading and going to satsangs for two years, but I am afraid the Neo-Advaita teachings are not deep enough.
My question is about the difference between Buddhism and traditional Advaita: are nirvana and moksa the same? I read that the difference is one of perspective. The Vedantic explanation – that of merging into the One – is a more objective, philosophical view. The Buddhist interpretation is more accurately a phenomenological description. But in each case the actual experience is the same.
I really appreciate your opinion! I want to continue in the Advaita Vedanta path and keep studying Ramana Maharshi’s teachings but I started doubting and questioning after my previous satsangs experiences.
~ May peace be with you!
Sundari: Hello, Tara. Your questions are good ones and very common with serious inquirers. Normally with people who write in for the first time (which I presume you have) we ask if you have read James’ book How to Attain Enlightenment. If not, we ask you to do so, to watch as many of the videos of his teaching as possible (there are many free ones on YouTube) and to read as many of the e-satsangs on the ShiningWorld website as possible. You will find that every question you could think of has been asked and answered, in every way possible.
As to your doubts about Neo-Advaita: while it teaches about awareness, it does not have a valid means of knowledge to teach what it means to be awareness. Its answer to this is to negate the existence of the apparent person and the doer – which just does not work because you cannot and need not get rid of the person. Freedom is understanding the truth of reality and how that translates into the life of the person – which means you are free of the person and as the person. The work required is called self-inquiry, and in order to undertake it the mind needs to be qualified and purified. This is explained in detail in James’ book and is very important. Neo-Advaita says that no qualifications are required, just get it! But alas, ignorance is hardwired and highly resistant, and there are no shortcuts to liberation, so most don’t just get it! Discriminating the real, the self, from the apparently real, the person and the world, is the most difficult thing for the mind because it is so subtle. You are fortunate to have found Vedanta.
As for Buddhism – what is Buddhism?
The problem with Buddhism is that no one really knows what it is – there are so many different traditions and opinions about what it really stands for that it is totally open to interpretation. Buddhism was born out of Vedanta and it is referred to as a “chip off the tooth of Vedanta.” Buddhism split off from and disagrees with Vedanta as a valid means of knowledge, so it is called a heterodoxy.
What does Buddhism really say? What does it mean by “self” ? Does it speak from the perspective of the apparent reality, meaning the person, or from the perspective of the self when it says that there is “no self”? No one seems to be sure about this. By contrast, Vedanta is not open to interpretation because the whole point of the teaching is to negate the doer, the ego, that interprets according to its own beliefs and opinions which are based in ignorance of its true nature as awareness, meaning that the doer interprets reality through the screen of the vasanas.
Vedanta teaches that in order to be free, two things have to take place: the interpreter of experience, the doer, has to be understood in the light of self-knowledge and then negated as only apparently real, even though it clearly does exist because you can experience it. The second thing is that the binding vasanas need to be rendered non-binding. The doer is only a problem when it is identified with its story, which is made up of and a product of its vasanas, the conditioning given to it by Isvara, the gunas.
For self-inquiry to work and self-knowledge to stick, the mind has to be prepared and qualified. This is where all the work takes place in Vedanta: understanding the true nature of the mind and how it relates to the environment it is a part of, meaning the nature of and the relationship between (1) the person or jiva, (2) the Total Mind or Isvara and (3) awareness. Without this firm understanding, ignorance remains no matter how many vipassanas or anything else one does to be free of suffering. This is why there are so many confused Buddhists around. Most popular interpretations of Buddhism do not have a complete teaching – and what it supposedly does teach is really not really clear. Possible exceptions to this are Dzogchen and Zen Buddhism which do teach non-duality but they still do not have a valid and complete teaching – they talk about awareness but do not teach what it means to be awareness. It is one thing to realise is that one’s true nature is awareness, but unless this knowledge is actualised, meaning that the doer and the vasanas are understood and negated, then self-realisation is most likely not firm. This is the problem with many teachings and teachers – even Ramana made statements that did not provide a teaching because he was not a proper teacher.
Vedanta is called a brahma vidya which means the “science of consciousness.” It is an objective and scientific analysis of the true nature of reality – and your experience, based on the facts. Like any other science, it is not personal and it has a methodology – which, if followed with great dedication and commitment, will provide irrefutable knowledge that is moksa, if the inquirer is qualified. Vedanta is simply the truth about “you.” Not your truth or my truth or anyone’s truth: The Truth.
This is why Vedanta is called apauruseya jnanam, meaning “not the philosophy or experience of one person” like a mystic or a prophet such as the Buddha or Jesus. It is not a belief system or religion either. Vedanta predates all known religious or philosophical paths because it is simply how things are and have always been, because it is the pathless path that underpins all other paths. It is an independent teaching or sruti, which means “that which is heard.” Vedanta is revealed to the mind of man, not thought up by man nor the result of any action on anyone’s part; this is why you can trust it. A qualified Vedanta teacher does not see himself or herself as a teacher because they know they are not the doer; he or she will not see Vedanta as their teaching, but see themselves as simply a vehicle for self-knowledge. A qualified teacher of Vedanta does not teach the ego or see inquirers as “other” because they only see – and teach – the self.
Vedanta teaches that you cannot do anything to get enlightened because the doer is the problem; no action taken by a limited entity can produce a limitless result, which is what liberation or moksa is. However, Vedanta is a complete teaching in that it is both a path of action, self-inquiry, and a path of knowledge. Although self-inquiry is an action, it is not the action itself that provides the results but only self-knowledge that removes ignorance, not the one doing the self-inquiry. And the result that self-inquiry produces is a limitless result because it produces freedom from the limitation of identification with the doer – which is moksa.
What does Buddhism teach? Does it have a teaching? Many Buddhist interpretations say that “no-mind” is the key to nirvana – but who is it that knows the no-mind or nirvana? If you know something, it can’t be you, can it? The knower and the known share the same identity as awareness but they do not exist in the same order of reality because the knower is the subject and the known is the object. The mind is an object known to you, awareness. One cannot get rid of the mind – and even if one could, there is no need because the mind is not the problem.
Identification with the mind is the problem. The mind is a product of the vasanas – and Buddhism does not address the conditioning that runs the mind and creates the mind, the gunas – and it ignores the Total Mind or Isvara, so it has no teaching. The best it has to offer with its gruelling methods to get rid of the mind is perhaps a certain calm and peace. But unless the conditioning that is there in the mind is understood, the vasanas are still binding and as soon as the peace wears off, which it will sooner or later because it is based on experience and not knowledge – the person, the mind, the vasanas and therefore the problems, are still there. So one has to go back to meditation or yoga or whatever one does to try to get rid of the mind. It never works, not for long.
Buddhism talks about the Four Noble Truths: (1) life is suffering; (2) desire is the root of all suffering; (3) the way to remove suffering is to remove the mind through the Eightfold Path; (4) this achieves a state of no desire called nirvana, which is a Sanskrit word that means “without flame.” But to answer this: if consciousness is all there is, there has to be someone there to know that the mind is gone, so why not concentrate on teaching who the knower is, instead of trying to get rid of the mind, which can’t be done?
The Four Noble Truths reinforce the idea prevalent in yoga that you have to do something to achieve the state which is enlightenment. In other words, it is a totally dualistic approach based on the idea that the self or awareness is something other than who you are and something that has to be gained because you don’t have it which, incidentally, is why desire is there in the first place: the need to make one whole instead of realising your true nature is wholeness.
What Buddhism does not address is exactly what Vedanta teaches, who the knower of desire is. There is no way you can get rid of desire as long as you are in human form because life is about experience, which is based on desire. There is nothing inherently wrong with desire; in fact, one needs a desire for freedom in order to be free of limitation. It is a question of knowing WHO desires WHAT. Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: “I am the desire that is not opposed to dharma.”
Buddhism says that all is emptiness – and what does it mean by this? It is true that all objects are not conscious – and an object is anything other than you, awareness – which includes thoughts, feelings, intuition, epiphanies, spiritual experiences, STATES of being as well as gross objects such as the body, a tree, etc. All objects are therefore inert – they arise from consciousness/awareness, depend on consciousness to exist and dissolve back into consciousness – but consciousness is always free of the objects. Just like the ocean and the wave depend on water to exist, but water does not depend on either the wave or the ocean to exist. All objects are made up of consciousness, but in another form – that of the apparently real. Only consciousness is real – “real” being defined by “that which is always present and never changes.” Awareness is not a state – it is the knower of all states, so consciousness is the fullness that knows the emptiness. Emptiness is not a problem when you understand that duality is not real, it is just a superimposition onto non-duality, which is the true nature of reality. This is what Vedanta offers: a valid, independent means of knowledge with which to understand the true nature of the mind and its environment, the apparent reality, which if the mind is purified and qualified, will remove not the mind but ignorance of its true nature.
The main problem therefore is that Buddhism teaches that enlightenment is based on experience and not knowledge, which is where it parts company with Vedanta. Vedanta teaches that only knowledge removes ignorance, not experience. This is because experience is an object known to you, awareness. It is not real and it always ends. Buddhism teaches that enlightenment is a state to be achieved by action. Vedanta teaches that you are not the doer and you do not need any particular experience to experience awareness because YOU ALREADY ARE AWARENESS and you are only ever experiencing awareness – you just don’t know it because you have an ignorance problem.
Vedanta teaches through irrefutable logic by getting you to examine the unexamined logic of your own experience that you cannot gain something you already have. There is no such thing as an enlightened person; there are only beings whose ignorance has been removed by self-knowledge, who have discriminated themselves, awareness from the objects that arise in them.
Buddhism teaches kindness and compassion for all beings, which is a very good thing because non-injury is the highest dharmic value. However, this has been extrapolated by many Buddhists to mean that one must do good because the world and people in it need saving. Vedanta teaches that non-injury means following your true nature and living in accordance with Isvara, which means that you see everything as non-different from you, awareness and therefore everything perfect the way it is. Isvara is in charge of the apparent reality and there is a reason for everything that no one mind understands; Isvara is the giver of the results of action, no matter what we do.
And there is no need to change anything because the apparent reality is not real; it is a play of the gunas that have created the belief in duality and this is the cause of suffering. Freedom is knowing the difference between what is real and what is only apparently real and never confusing the two again. Which means you will automatically not harm any part of the creation because you see it all as you, but that does not mean you have to change things or save anyone.
~ Namaste, Sundari