Advayavada Buddhism


Archive for the tag “Mahayana Buddhism”

Emptiness, form, and Dzogchen ethics


Moonpaths by the Cowherds

For a hundred years, the West has wrestled with the problem of ethical nihilism. God’s commands once provided a firm foundation for morality; but then he died. All attempts to find an alternative foundation have failed. Why, then, should we be moral? How can we be sure what is moral? No one has satisfactory answers, despite many ingenious attempts by brilliant philosophers.

Buddhism has wrestled with the same problem for much longer: most of two thousand years. According to Mahayana, everything is empty. This means everything exists only as an illusion, or arbitrary human convention. “Everything” must include śīla—codes of religious discipline. (Those are the closest thing Buddhism has to morality.) “Everything” definitely includes people, the main topic of ethics.

For two millennia, authorities have acknowledged an apparent contradiction: why should we conform to śīla if it is empty, illusory, arbitrary, or mere convention? If people don’t…

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Advayavada Study Plan – week 28

Dear friends,

The purpose of Advayavada Buddhism is to become a true part of the whole.

Our quest is fully personalized: it is firmly based on what we increasingly know about ourselves and our world, and trusting our own intentions, feelings and conscience. Adherence to the familiar five precepts (not to kill, not to steal, sexual restraint, not to lie, and refraining from alcohol and drugs) and a well-considered understanding of the three (in Advayavada Buddhism, four) signs of being and the Buddha’s four noble truths (which, this quarter, are the subjects of weeks 27 to 31) suffice to start off on this Path at any time.

Advayavada Buddhism does not tell you what to do or believe, but invites us all to make the very best of our own lives by indeed attuning as best as possible with wondrous overall existence advancing over time now in its manifest direction. The Advayavada Study Plan (ASP) is repeated four times a year.

The purpose of the autonomous ASP is that we study (and debate in a local group, the family circle or with good friends) the meaning and implications of the weekly subject, not as a formal and impersonal intellectual exercise, but in the context of whatever we ourselves are presently doing or are concerned with, or about, such as our health, relationships, work, study, our place in society, etc.

My own specific personal objective this new quarter is to help improve the didactic presence of Advayavada Buddhism on the social media; what is your specific objective this quarter?

In week 27 we observed and studied the impermanence or changeability of all things, and to continue this new 13-week action plan, in week 28 we shall again study the selflessness and finitude of all things as thoroughly as possible; in Dutch: de vergankelijkheid van alles (het tweede kenmerk van het bestaan)

This task is based on the Buddhist anatta (Pali) or anatmata (Sanskrit) doctrine. It is the second of the three (in Advayavada Buddhism, four) signs or marks or basic facts of being. Anatta or anatman means that no imperishable self exists in the person in the sense of a permanent, eternal, integral, and independent substance; human beings currently live for about 4,000 weeks, during which wondrous life itself takes care of a lot for us: the lion’s share of our body’s activities is e.g. under the control of our peripheral nervous system, which includes the autonomic nervous system comprised by a sympathetic and a parasympathetic system, which e.g. jointly run our heart beat and the flow of blood through our blood vessels and much more.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the nissvabhava (Sanskrit) doctrine teaches further that in fact all things without exception are empty (shunya) of self-nature (svabhava), i.e. devoid of self-sufficient, independent existence or lasting substance; svabhava-shunyata (lit. self-nature emptiness) is a central notion in Madhyamaka philosophy. It teaches that indeed everything without exception arises, abides, changes and extinguishes in accordance with madhyamaka-pratityasamutpada, i.e. the process of universal relativity or interdependent origination, meaning here that ‘all causes are effects and all effects are causes’.

Nirvana is, in Advayavada Buddhism, the total extinction of our existential suffering as a result of our complete reconciliation and harmonization with reality as it truly is beyond our commonly limited and biased personal experience of it; the unremitting persistency of human distress, alienation and conflict is undeniably due to the very many everywhere not knowing or not understanding or simply disbelieving the true nature of existence.

Please note that these ASP instalments in this format will cease in week 31.

Kind regards,
John Willemsens,
Advayavada Foundation.

The Three-Treatise School (Wing-tsit Chan)

The Three-Treatise School (from The Philosophy of Emptiness: Chi-tsang of the Three-Treatise School, in A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, by Wing-tsit Chan, Princeton 1963, 1969, 1973)

The Three-Treatise School and the Consciousness-Only School [Vijñanavada] represented the two major developments of Mahayana or Great Vehicle philosophy in India. The former insists that dharmas (elements of existence) and their causes are unreal and has therefore been known as the School of Non-being, while the latter insists that they are real and has therefore been known as the School of Being. Both were introduced into China by outstanding philosophers. Both had something profound and subtle to offer which China had never known. Both lasted for several centuries. But both failed to exert lasting influence on Chinese thought. It is important to understand why this has been the case.

The Three-Treatise School, called Madhyamika (Middle Doctrine) in Sanskrit, was founded in India by Nagarjuna (c.100-200 A.D.). Kumarajiva (344-413) introduced it into China by translating Nagarjuna’s two most important treatises, the Madhyamika sastra (Treatise on the Middle Doctrine) and the Dvadasanikaya sastra (Twelve Gates Treatise) and his disciple Aryadeva’s Sata sastra (One Hundred Verses Treatise). Hence the school is called the Three-Treatise School.

The central concept of the school is Emptiness (Sunyata) in the sense that the nature and characters of all dharmas, together with their causation, are devoid of reality. Thus all differentiations, whether being or non-being, cause or effect, or coming-into-existence or going-out-of-existence are only ‘temporary names’ and are empty in nature. The only reality is Emptiness itself, which is the absolute, Ultimate Void, the Original Substance, or in Chinese terminology, the correct principle (cheng-li). As such it is equivalent to Nirvana and the Dharma-body.

The doctrine was transmitted in China through Kumarajiva’s pupil Seng-chao (384-414) and played a dominant role there from the fourth to the seventh century. It had a tremendous attraction for the Chinese because its philosophy of Emptiness suited the temper of Chinese intellectuals of Wei-Chin times (220-420), who were then propagating the Taoist doctrine of non-being. Its highly developed and systematic method of reasoning was a stimulating novelty to the Chinese. Its spirit of criticism and refutation gave the rebellious Chinese philosophers, including the Neo-Taoists, a sense of emancipation. Its nominalism reinforced the Chinese opposition to the Confucian doctrine of ranks and names, especially in the sixth century. In addition to all this, it had the great fortune [sic] of having as its systematiser the outstanding figure, Chi-tsang (549-623). […]

Ironically, Chi-tsang’s success was at the same time the failure of his school, for it became less and less Chinese. As mentioned before, Seng-chao was still a bridge between Taoism and Buddhism. He combined the typical Chinese concept of identity of substance and function, for example, with the Buddhist concepts of temporary names and Emptiness. In Chi-tsang, substance and function are sharply contrasted instead. In that, he was completely Indian in viewpoint, although he quoted Taoists. As a systematiser and transmitter of Indian philosophy, he brought about no cross-fertilization between Buddhist and Chinese thought. And it happened that the Indian thought which he promoted was so utterly unacceptable to the Chinese that the school declined in the ninth century. […]

To this [the Middle Doctrine] school, refutation of erroneous views is essential for and indeed identical with the elucidation of right views. But when a right view is held in place of a wrong one, the right view itself becomes one-sided and has to be refuted. It is only through this dialectic process that Emptiness can be arrived at, which alone is free from names and character and is ‘inexplicable in speech and unrealizable in thought’.  The specific method in this dialectic process is Nagarjuna’s Middle Path of Eightfold Negations, which denies that dharmas come into existence or go out of existence, that they are permanent or come to an end, that they are the same or different, and that they come or go away. The basis of all arguments is the so-called Four Points of Argumentation. By the use of this method of argument, a dharma as being, as non-being, as both being and non-being, and as neither being nor non-being are all refuted and proved to be untrue. Chi-tsang illustrates this method fully in his refutation of causation.

It is obvious that this approach is as nihilistic as it is destructive. The school had little new substance to offer and nothing constructive. It is true that Emptiness as the Absolute is as pure and perfect as anything conceivable, but being devoid of specific characters and divorced from mundane reality, it becomes too abstract for the Chinese. It might be hoped that its novel and radical method of reasoning at least aroused the Chinese mind and led to a new approach to life and reality, but it did not. That opportunity was left to the Zen (Meditation, Ch’an) School.

The Nirvanic Realm, Here and Now (Inada)

The Nirvanic Realm, Here and Now (from Nagarjuna, A Translation of his Mulamadhyamakakarika, by Prof. Kenneth K. Inada, 1970, Delhi 1993)

It is sometimes said that Nagarjuna appeared at the right moment and at the right place in Buddhist history to provide the necessary corrective measures to Buddhist philosophical analysis of man’s nature and thereby initiated a ‘new’ movement within the Mahayana tradition. First of all, however, it must be remembered that he did not appear out of a vacuum but rather that he came after a long period of Buddhist activity in India proper. At least six or seven centuries had transpired between the historical Buddha (6th century B.C.) and Nagarjuna (circa 2nd-3rd centuries A.D.), a time in which Buddhists actively explored, criticized, and propagated the Buddhist truth. This is the period which produced the eighteen contending schools of the Abhidharmika system discussed earlier and also the time which saw the germs of the break in the interpretation of the nature of the summum bonum (Nirvana) between the Hinayana (inclusive of modern Theravada) and Mahayana traditions.

At the same time, secondly, it should be noted that the Mahayana tradition in its earliest phase, i.e. pre-Christian period, had already produced some of the most attractive and arresting thoughts in Buddhist history, thoughts which are considered most fundamental to all subsequent developments in the tradition. Sutras relative to this period concentrate on the universal and extensive sameness (samata, tathata) in the nature of man, his supreme wisdom (prajña) and compassion (karuna), all of which describe the concept of a bodhisattva or enlightened being. They expound ad infinitum the purity, beauty and ultimate rewards of the realization of this supreme realm of being in language which is at once esthetic, poetic and dramatic but which at times are painfully frustrating to the searching rational mind.

For example, the empirically oriented mind would not be able to accept and adapt simple identities of the order (or realm) of wordly (mundane) and unworldly (supermundane), empirical and nonempirical, common everyday life (Samsara) and uncommon enlightened life (Nirvana), pure (sukha) and impure (asukha), and finally, form (rupa) and emptiness (shunyata). In the final identity of form and emptiness, a climax in the ideological development is reached where the sutras, in particular the whole Prajñaparamita Sutras, elaborate on the point that all forms are in the nature of void (shunya). Thus, such forms in the nature of a sentient creature or being (sattva), a soul or vital force (jiva), a self (atman), a personal identity (pudgala) and separate ‘elements’ (dharmas) are all essentially devoid of any characterization (animitta, alaksana). The quest for voidness or emptiness is thoroughgoing with the aim being the nongrasping (agrahya) and at once the emptiness of the personal experiential components (pudgala-shunyata) and of the personal ideational components (dharma-shunyata). This is the final goal of the Nirvanic realm, here and now, without residues (anupadhishesa-nirvana-dhatu) and achievable to all.

Needless to say, the understanding of the above identities is the constant challenge and the most profound feature of the Mahayana, if not the whole Buddhist philosophy. Unquestionably, Nagarjuna was faithful to this lineage of ideas and he tried his hand in cristalizing the prevailing ideas. He came to bundle up the loosely spread ideas, so to speak, and gave a definite direction in the quest of man.

Madhyamaka is advayavada (Loy)

Madhyamaka is advayavada (from Nonduality, A Study in Comparative Philosophy, by Prof. David R. Loy, 1988, Amherst 1998)

Advaita Vedanta clearly asserts nonduality in our third sense [the nondifference of subject and object], to the extent of making it the central tenet. The case of Buddhism is more complicated. Ontologically, Pali Buddhism, which bases itself on what are understood to be the original teachings of the Buddha, seems pluralistic. Reality is understood to consist of a multitude of discrete particulars (dharmas). The self is analyzed away into five ‘heaps’ (skandhas) which the Abhidharma (the ‘higher dharma’, a philosophical abstract of the Buddha’s teachings) classifies and systematizes. So early Buddhism, while critical of dualistic thinking, is not nondual in the second, monistic [the nonplurality of the world], sense. Regarding the nondifference of subject and object, the issue is less clear. While the second sense of nonduality [the nonplurality of the world] logically implies some version of the third [the nondifference of subject and object], it is not true that a denial of the second sense implies a denial of the third. The world might be a composite of discrete experiences which are nondual in the third sense.

I am not acquainted with any passage in the Pali Canon that clearly asserts the nonduality of subject and object, as one finds in so many Mahayana texts. But I have also found no denial of such nonduality. One may view the no-self (anatman) doctrine of early Buddhism as another way of making the same point; instead of asserting that subject and object are one, the Buddha simply denies that there is a subject. These two formulations may well amount to the same thing, although the latter may be criticized as ontologically lopsided: since subject and object are interdependent, the subject cannot be eliminated without transforming the nature of the object (and vice-versa, as Advaita Vedanta was aware)..

Mahayana Buddhism abounds in assertions of subject-object nonduality, despite the fact that the most important Mahayana philosophy, Madhyamaka, cannot be said to assert nonduality at all, since it makes few (if any) positive claims but confines itself to refuting all philosophical positions. Madhyamaka is advayavada (the theory of not-two, here meaning neither of two alternative views, our first sense of nonduality [the negation of dualistic thinking] ), rather than advaitavada (the theory of nondifference between subject and object, our third sense). Prajña is understood to be nondual knowledge, but this again is advaya, knowledge devoid of views. Nagarjuna neither asserts nor denies the experience of nonduality in the third sense, despite the fact that Madhyamika dialectic criticizes the self-existence of both subject and object, since relative to each other they must both be unreal: “Nagarjuna holds that dependent origination is nothing else but the coming to rest of the manifold of named things (prapañcopashama). When the everyday mind and its contents are no longer active, the subject and object of everyday transactions having faded out because the turmoil of origination, decay, and death has been left behind completely, that is final beatitude.” (Chandrakirti, Prasannapada)

Hua-yen is difficult to summarize (Cook)

Hua-yen is difficult to summarize (from Fa-tsang’s Brief Commentary, by Francis H. Cook, in Mahayana Buddhist Meditation, edited by Minoru Kiyota, 1978, Delhi 1991)

Hua-yen totalism is difficult to summarize briefly. The concrete world “out there” is a perfect fusion of the phenomenal shih and absolute li, of form se and emptiness k’ung. To say that something is empty is to say that it lacks any kind of self-existence (svabhava), and while the external world appears to be divided into many separate entities, each with a distinct form and function, all are alike empty of any substance or essence which would make them truly distinct and independent. Thus, to speak of the static relationship between things, things can be said to be essentially identical, i.e. empty of self-existence. However, this emptiness is never found apart from concrete reality, apart from “form”, to use the sutra terminology; emptiness is expressed in forms, and these forms are seen as exerting causal influences on each other. Thus to speak of their dynamic relationship, things can be said to be interdependent. Now, while it may seem strange to speak of a cosmos in which all things are identical and interdependent, these two relationships are nothing but other ways of saying that everything is empty, sarvam shunyam.

The result of this sort of analysis of the mode of being of the dharmadhatu is a de-emphasis of the differences between things and an emphasis on seeing being in its totality. Distinctions are submerged, hierarchies disappear, past, present, and future merge, and in this vast organism of interdependent parts, any part acts simultaneously as cause and effect. There is, then, a very intimate relationship between any one individual and all other individuals (or the totality). Because each and all other individuals are lacking in self-existence and have their being purely through intercausality, the whole is dependent on the part, because without the part, there can be no whole. (It must be remembered that each part has this relationship to the whole simultaneously.) At the same time, however, the part has not existence and no meaning outside the context of the totality, because is is a part of the whole. Thus, the part creates the whole and the whole creates the part, in a view of existence which Hua-yen calls fa-chieh yuan-ch’i or the interdependent origination of the cosmos (in Sanskrit dharmadhatu pratityasamutpada). Along with this interdependence, there is a relationship of essential identity among the parts of the whole.

The final consequence of this view of being is a doctrine of the completely free interfusion, or interpenetration, of the parts in the whole, and this is the distinctively Hua-yen doctrine of shih shih wu-ai, the non-impediment of a thing with any other thing. For instance, though the present is the present, because of the principle of interdependence (emptiness), the present includes past and future, which remain past and future. Or, to give another example, the practices of the boddhisattva can rightly be seen as the cause of Buddhahood-effect, but because of emptiness, they can be seen as result, because they too, in their emptiness, are merely manifestations of the Buddha [the whole]. If, as Hua-yen claims, the dharmadhatu is the body of Vairocana, where can I not find the Buddha? Everything, in fact, in the Hua-yen cosmos is worthy of respect and honor, because everything manifests the totality of being and reality.

More Questions and Answers

question I am not familiar with the term Advayavada.

answer We gave the name Advayavada Buddhism to the radical non-dual standpoint of the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhism to which we specifically adhere. A sound explanation of the term ‘advayavada’ can be found in for instance professor T.R.V. Murti’s The Central Philosophy of Buddhism: “The sole concern of the Madhyamaka advaya-vada is the purification of the faculty of knowing. The primordial error consists in the intellect being infected by the inveterate tendency to view Reality as identity or difference, permanent or momentary, one or many etc. These views falsify reality, and the dialectic [of the Madhyamaka] administers a cathartic corrective. With the purification of the intellect, Intuition emerges; the Real is known as it is, as Tathata [advayata; non-dual suchness] or bhutakoti [reality-limit; the extreme limit beyond which there is nothing which can be known]. The emphasis is on the correct attitude of our knowing..” It is in this sense that we use the term ‘advayavada’.

question What you say seems to me to be an essential teaching of the Mahayana in its complete form. The Unborn Infinite Reality can never be less than Perfect and Whole, and is the True Essence of all Beings, and is ever present. All that is needed is that, in perfect simplicity, we turn to That, and realize that the human manifestation of life is just an imperfect reflexion of That. Simple! but not easy. That is the problem. If we realize what we are, how do we remember to continue to realize it moment by moment, rather than seeking to hold on to the vision of the past?

answer Everything is, indeed, as right as it can be, and the Middle Way devoid of extremes is a perfect reflexion of it at the human level. As for your question, our answer would be that you must see that ‘vision of the past’ for what it really is: a highly selective subjective recollection in the present of things no longer there – please understand that life only happens Now.

question Existence progresses towards better or worse only in a dualistic sense. Life goes towards better, towards worse, only when one has expectations. Current failings? Simply a state of mind brought on by expectations and judgements. That ‘infinite Reality’ (what other reality is there?) will continue to ‘become’ exactly as it must? No, it is, it is exactly as it is.

answer You and the writer obviously do not experience the passage of time, i.e. the duration, the sum duration of the successive phenomena, in the same way. Your ‘reality is exactly as it is’ as opposed to his ‘reality will continue to become exactly as it, by definition, must’ makes this important point very clear. As a result of his prolonged and deep meditation on the true nature of reality, the writer has come to share fully and wholeheartedly the Buddhist view that existence is a constant flux of ever-changing events with no known beginning or necessary end. As a serious student of the Madhyamaka theories of existence, particularly of the concepts of emptiness, interdependent origination and the two truths, he has come to understand the Noble Eightfold Path as an ongoing reflexion at the level of his own life of existence as a whole becoming over time. By learning to follow the Eightfold Path successfully, he hopes to live every time more and more in tune with wondrous overall existence. For the Advayavadin, Nirvana is when we experience our own existence as being completely in harmony with existence as a whole becoming over time. In Buddhism, there is no static being, only dynamic becoming: to live is to become. And in Advayavada Buddhism, the Eightfold Path is moreover seen, not as a means to become something else in the future, but as a way to become as something rightaway in the herenow. The Eightfold Path is seen as a proven method to achieve the abandonment of all fixed views and to become oneself in the here and now as existence, as wondrous overall existence becoming over time now in its right direction. It is by becoming herenow as wondrous overall existence becoming over time now that we free ourselves from suffering and realize happiness.

Madhyamaka Schools in India (Della Santina)

Concluding chapter of Madhyamaka Schools in India, by Peter Della Santina.

As has been stressed, the Madhyamaka is a philosophy of a qualitatively different order. The Madhyamaka seeks to dismantle the phenomenal universe which is constructed by imagination through sustained dialectical analysis. In this way, the Madhyamaka attempts to reveal the unconditioned and non-differentiated nature of the ultimately real.

The Madhyamaka philosophy expresses the quintessence of the teaching of the Buddha Shakyamuni. In the Madhyamaka the full extent of the Buddha’s characteristic philosophical attitude is disclosed and elaborated. Thus the Madhyamaka constitutes a complete and systematic critical philosophy.

Through the expedients of concepts and language, the Madhyamaka attempts to indicate the actual nature of ultimate reality, which transcends thought and expression. The conception of the ultimately real offered by the Madhyamaka is a revolutionary one. It is for this reason that the advent of the Madhyamaka system represented a significant turning point in the development of Indian philosophy. Indeed, it may be said without fear of contradiction that nearly all the major philosophical systems of India were profoundly affected by the appearance of the Madhyamaka.

The fundamental characteristics of the Madhyamaka account, in large part, for the influence which the system had upon Indian philosophy as a whole. The Madhyamaka was, in the first place, acutely aware of the subjective character of thought which, according to the Madhyamaka conception, fabricates the universe of appearance. This awareness led, more or less directly, to a conception of ultimate reality as a state in which appearance is dispelled through the extinction of subjective imagination. Thus, it may be said that the cessation of subjective imagination results in the dissolution of the universe of appearance which obscures the non-differentiated and non-dual nature of the ultimately real.

The revolutionary character of these conceptions will be appreciated if it is recalled that no philosophy prior to the Madhyamaka realised the universality of the activity of subjective imagination or conceived of reality as an ineffable and unconditioned state altogether free from duality. Hence, the Madhyamaka clearly represents the first systematic formulation of a philosophy of absolute non-duality in India.

It is, however, important to remember that the implications of these conceptions elaborated in the Madhyamaka extend beyond the limits of what may be termed scholastic philosophy. The Madhyamaka, as it has been emphasised, is above all a soteriological philosophy. It is intended to produce an existential transformation in the individual. Philosophy, therefore, for the Madhyamaka is more than simply an intellectual exercise. On the contrary, philosophy supplies a means of achieving an actual transition from a condition of ignorance and bondage to one of knowledge and freedom. It is the critical awareness of the subjective origin of the universe of appearance which enables one to remove the subjective illusion which obscures the actual nature of the ultimately real.

It is a primary concern with any soteriological philosophy that it be successfully communicated to others. The extraordinary knowledge which has, in the case of the philosopher, engendered the desired existential transformation must be communicated to those who are ignorant of it. This communication must necessarily be accomplished through concepts and language, even when the extraordinary knowledge which is to be communicated ultimately transcends thought and expression. In this context, it is clear that the process of communication is an especially difficult one for the Madhyamaka, because, as it has been noted, the Madhyamaka is a philosophy of a radically different order.

The approach of the Madhyamaka to the problem of communicating the extraordinary knowledge achieved through philosophy to the uninitiated tends to be rational or analytical, rather than symbolic or suggestive. Thus, it is that the Madhyamaka philosopher employs various arguments which conform, to a greater or lesser degree, to the conventionally accepted patterns of logical discourse. Through these arguments, the Madhyamaka seeks to lead the uninitiated gradually to a comprehension of the existential import of the Madhyamaka philosophy.

In the process of communicating the extraordinary knowledge initially available only to the philosopher, ordinary facts must necessarily be employed. Only then can the extraordinary knowledge achieved by the philosopher be successfully communicated to the uninitiated. The arguments employed by the Prasangika and Svatantrika schools of the Madhyamaka system, therefore, represent attempts to communicate the extraordinary knowledge embodied in the Madhyamaka philosophy to the uninitiated through concepts and language.

Yet when the philosopher attempts to express extraordinary knowledge through concepts and language, amenable to the understanding of the uninitiated, he must take great care to preserve the essential purity of the extraordinary philosophical knowledge which he is anxious to communicate. Otherwise, the clarity and precision of his extraordinary philosophical vision will become obscured and distorted in the process of communication. If this occurs, the extraordinary knowledge embodied in the Madhyamaka philosophy will be only imperfectly communicated. Perhaps even more importantly, there exists the danger that the philosopher himself may unconsciously forsake, in some degree, the perfection of the extraordinary knowledge which it was his intention to communicate. The controversy between the Prasangika and Svatantrika schools must, in the final analysis, be seen in the light of this fundamental problem. The exponents of both schools clearly desired to communicate the extraordinary knowledge embodied in the Madhyamaka philosophy to the uninitiated. In their attempt to do so, they resorted to divergent modes of argument. The success or failure of their respective approaches to the problem of communication must be measured within the twofold context suggested earlier. It must be judged to what degree the arguments employed by the two schools succeed in communicating effectively the extraordinary knowledge embodied in the Madhyamaka philosophy, while, at the same time, preserving the purity and perfection of that very extraordinary knowledge.

The verdict delivered by the history of the development of the Madhyamaka philosophy eventually favoured the Prasangikas. Over the course of centuries, the approach adopted by the Prasangikas emerged as the predominantly accepted one. The Svatantrika interpretation, on the other hand, steadily lost ground after the collapse of Buddhism in India until, at present, only vestiges of it are preserved in the living Buddhist traditions of Tibet and Mongolia.

Though the controversy with which this study has been largely concerned may have been decided by the history of philosophy, the central problem which has been indicated in these concluding pages continues even today to be a very relevant one. Indeed, all those who are at present engaged in the communication of the knowledge contained in the ancient and now, for the most part, fragmented philosophical traditions of India to modern men cannot afford to ignore the central problem which divided the two Madhyamaka schools. Thus it is that all attempts to communicate the essential import of ancient Indian philosophical systems through concepts and language amenable to the comprehension of modern men must be judged within the twofold context which has been suggested. All such attempts must seek to accomplish satisfactorily two indispensable objectives. They must seek to communicate effectively the knowledge embodied in ancient Indian philosophy in contemporary concepts and language, while at the same time preserving the purity of the ancient philosophical vision. Only then will it be possible to ensure the vitality, purity and continuity of the philosophical wisdom of ancient India.

© Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, Delhi (India)

Advayavada Buddhism in a Nutshell

Buddhism is a collective name for the diverse philosophical, esoteric and religious beliefs that are derived from the way of liberation taught, in the 6th century B.C., by the North-Indian prince Siddhartha Gautama, called the Buddha, which means the Awakened or Enlightened One. Advayavada Buddhism, formally established in 1995 as a new, secular branch of Mahayana Buddhism by the Dutch lay Buddhist author and translator Advayavadananda (John Willemsens, b.1934), is a non-dual and life-affirming philosophy and way of life derived in turn from Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka, or philosophy of the Middle Way. The purpose of Advayavada Buddhism is to help us to become a true part of the whole. Because of its open character and structure, and, above all, its autonomous and non-prescriptive nature, it is difficult to determine how many Buddhists share the views of Advayavada Buddhism worldwide at this time.

According to Advayavada Buddhism, it is indisputable that the Buddha did not believe in Brahman (God, transcendent and immutable Absolute) or in the atman or atta (soul, immortal self) and taught that man suffers because he does not understand and accept that all things in life are instead utterly changeable and transitory; if the Buddha had ever expressed belief in Brahman and the atman or atta, such a fact would have been unequivocally recorded in History. Man is prone to suffering (duhkha, dukkha) quite simply because he wrongly strives after and tries to hold on to things, concepts and situations which he believes to be permanent, but are not.

Man’s mistaken view of things is produced by a thirst or craving (called trishna in Sanskrit and tanha in Pali) which is in turn caused by his fundamental ignorance (avidya, avijja) of the true nature of reality. And this thirst or craving can easily take on a more unwholesome form: already as sensuous desire, ill-will, laziness, impatience or distrust will it seriously hinder any efforts to better his circumstances.

His compliance, however, with the five precepts that apply to all followers of the Buddha will allow him to arrest his thirst or craving and to commence removing the root cause of his suffering, i.e. his fundamental ignorance of the true nature of reality. The five fundamental Buddhist precepts are not to kill, not to steal, sexual restraint, not to lie, and abstinence from alcohol and drugs. Man’s observance of these precepts in his daily life gives him the moral strength required to embark upon the Buddha’s Middle Way that, avoiding first the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification, will in due course bring him to the blessed state of Nirvana.

Nirvana is the complete extinction (nirodha) of all suffering (duhkha, dukkha) as a result of our full reconciliation with reality as it truly is. Nirvana and Samsara are not two different realities or two different conditions of reality. Nirvana is to experience the phenomenal world at the level of ultimate truth (paramartha-satya), i.e. truth divested of all our preconceptions, including even those expressed here. Samsara is to experience the same phenomenal world at the level of conventional everyday truth (samvriti-satya). It is as a result of the purification of our perception of the phenomenal world at the level of conventional truth by following the Buddha’s Middle Way, that we shall come to understand the significance of ultimate truth and its rewards.

The Middle Way devoid of extremes that we must follow is concretely the Noble Eightfold Path that the Buddha taught in his very first sermon in Sarnath, near Benares. The Noble Eightfold Path, when interpreted dynamically as an autonomous and creative process of progressive insight reflecting in human terms wondrous overall existence becoming over time, as Advayavada Buddhism does, is that of our very best (samyak, samma) comprehension or insight, followed by our very best resolution or determination, our very best enunciation or definition of our intention, our very best disposition or attitude, our very best implementation or realization, our very best effort or commitment, our very best observation, reflection or evaluation and self-correction, and our very best meditation or concentration towards an increasingly real experience of samadhi, which brings us to a yet better comprehension or insight, and so forth. We thus regain our place in totality advancing over time, in human terms, towards better and better, breaking, as we advance along the Path, the fetters (samyojana) that restrict us to Samsara.

Advayavada Buddhism indeed considers progress (pratipada, patipada) as the fourth sign of being, this next to the impermanence and the selflessness of all things and the ubiquity of suffering in the world, which are the three signs or marks of being traditionally taught in Buddhism. When the Path expounded by the Buddha as the correct existential attitude and way of life is viewed as an ongoing reflexion at the level of our personal lives of wondrous overall existence becoming over time, it follows that human beings experience as good, right or beneficial that which takes place in the otherwise indifferent direction that time-being as a whole flows in of its own accord. The teaching of the Buddha must be seen as a Way of Reconciliation with wondrous existence as a whole just right as it is, i.e. as it truly is beyond our commonly limited and biased personal experience of it. Nirvana is, in Advayavada Buddhism, the ultimate reconciliation with reality becoming achievable by man. Indeed, in certain schools of Buddhism, Nirvana itself is seen as the fourth sign of being or seal of the dharma.

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