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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 (i.e. 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.
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