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UBC Theses and Dissertations

On the relationship of Advaita Vedānta and Mādhyamika Buddhism Reynolds, Eric T.


This thesis deals with the relation of Samkara's Advaita Vedanta to the Madhyamika Buddhism of Nagarjuna. Much confusion has been generated by this problem both in traditional sources, and the work of modern scholars. The two systems of philosophy have been found unalterably opposed, and nearly identical by different scholars. The problem has two dimensions, historical and philosophical, and has focused on the issue of Madhyamika influence in Samkara's philosophy. Historically, some scholars have felt that Madhyamika heavily influenced Advaita because Madhyamika was prior in time and the two schools share the doctrines of maya, ajativada, and an absolute without qualities. Thus Advaita must have borrowed these doctrines from Madhyamika. This conclusion is inadequate because it explains the doctrinal development of Advaita using only the external influence of Buddhism at the expense of internal dynamism within the Vedanta tradition. In order to understand the nature of Buddhist influence on Advaita, two questions must be asked. First, what was the nature or makeup of early Vedanta, and second, what elements of Samkara's philosophy can be found there? This procedure allows us to distinguish the elements of Samkara's philosophy which have their roots in orthodox tradition from those which could be interpreted as Buddhist in origin. In answering these two questions, the conclusion was reached that early Vedanta was not a unified school or philosophy, but a matrix of 'lineages' or traditions. Each tradition contains many different threads of philosophical, psychological, and theological doctrine. The growth of a separate school of Vedanta came out of the need to systematize this multivalent tradition. Samkara in forming a systematic interpretation of the Vedanta tradition drew upon numerous teachers and texts from this matrix of doctrine and tradition. Thus, all of the major elements of Samkara's philosophy can be found in early Vedanta but not forged into a systematic whole. Samkara then stands in relation to the Vedanta tradition, much as Nagarjuna does to the Mahayana. Both took already existing elements from their respective traditions and placed them in dynamic relationship in order to form a systematic philosophy. .Samkara does seem to have borrowed Buddhist method in accomplishing this systemization. Nagarjuna's dialectic and division of scripture into passages of absolute, and empirical import were both utilized by Samkara. This borrowing must be understood as one of method and not doctrine, because all of the meta-physical tenets of Samkara's system can be found in early Vedanta, which makes it unnecessary to turn to Buddhism as their source. In addition, Samkara's usage of terms such as maya is quite distinct from the meaning given them in Madhyamika, and much more atuned to his Vedantic heritage. From these conclusions the philosophy of Samkara can be viewed as the result of both internal dynamism within the Vedanta tradition, and the external influence of Buddhism. Many investigators have noted the similarity of Advaita and Madhyamika, and have drawn parallels between such concepts as Brahman and sunyata, or advaita and advaya. Frequently only the similaritieshave been pointed out, with the differences being dismissed as merely those of language. For this reason one system has often been understood through the categories of the other system. However, by viewing similar concepts in their philosophic context, parallels can be drawn which take into account both similarities and differences. The similarity of Advaita and Madhyamika is due to the sharing of several categories; the absolute, world-as-appearance, 'two truths', and nature of error. The uniqueness of each system comes from the transformation of these categories by the 'causal metaphor' upon which each system is based. The method of T.R.V. Murti who points out the ontological orientation of Advaita and the epistemological nature of Madhyamika will be used, along with Karl Potter's analysis of causal chains as being at the root of these respective orientations. The combination of these two methods places parallel concepts within their respective philosophical context, allowing us to make a comparison of the two systems which takes into account both the similarities and the uniqueness of each system.

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