Let us see some of the accusations of vedantins


Bhaskara (9th Century CE), the propounder of bhedabheda-siddhanta was one of the earliest Indian philosophers to attack Mayavada. In his commentary on Vedanta-sutra, Bhaskara does not mention Sankara by name, nor does he mention the name of his philosophy. However by reviewing his arguments against the monistic doctrine of maya and the Advaitic concept of anirvacaniya, it is obvious who and what he is alluding to.

Bhaskara is positively vitriolic when writing about the Advaitin’s concept of maya, referring to it’s adherents as bauddha-matavalambin (those that cling to Buddhist ideology) and goes on to say that their philosophy reeks of Buddhism (bauddha-gandhin). Bhaskara concludes that, “No one but a drunkard could hold such theories” and that Mayavada is subversive of all sastrika knowledge:

vigitam vicchinna-mulam mahayanika-bauddhagathitam mayavadam vyavarnayanto lokan vyamohayanti

Expanding on the contradictory and baseless philosophy of maya propagated by the Mahayanika Buddhists, the Mayavadis have misled the whole world. (Bhaskara’s Brahma-sutra-bhasya 1.4.25)

In his Siddha-traya, the Vaisnava philosopher Yamunacarya (917–1042 CE) stated that Buddhism and Mayavada was essentially the same thing. The only difference he could see was that while one was openly Buddhist (prakata-saugata), the other was simply covered (pracchana-saugata).

Following on from Yamunacarya, his disciple Sri Ramanuja (1017-1137 CE) also concurred that Mayavada was another form of Buddhism. In his Sri Bhashya commentary on the Vedanta-sutras, Ramanuja says that to claim that non-differentiated consciousness is real and all else is false is the same as the Buddhist concept of universal void. Furthermore, Ramanuja states that the concepts of such crypto-Buddhists make a mockery of the teachings of the Vedas (veda-vadacchadma pracchana-bauddha).

Another acarya in the line of Ramanuja, Vedanta Desika (1269–1370) wrote his famous Sata-dusini, a text expounding one hundred flaws found in Mayavada. In that work he refers to Sankara as a rahu-mimamsaka (one who obscures the true meaning of Vedanta), a bhrama-bhiksu (a confused beggar), a cadmavesa-dhari – one who is disguised in false garb, and goes on to assert that, “By memorizing the arguments of the Sata-dusini like a parrot, one would be victorious over the crypto-Buddhists.”

In another work, Paramata-bhangam, Vedanta Desika refers to Sankara as, “One who studied the Vedas in the shop of a Madhyamika Buddhist” (referring to Sankara’s param-guru Gaudapada of whom we will speak of later in this article).

Later philosophers also declared Mayavada to be crypto-Buddhism. The Sankhya philosopher Vijnana-bhiksu (1550–1600 CE) tried to reconcile Vedanta with Sankhya philosophy and synthesize all theistic schools of Indian thought into a philosophy that he called Avibhagadvaita (indistinguishable non-dualism). He was an impartial writer who analyzed both the merits and problems of the various doctrines that he encountered. Concerning Sankara’s philosophy, Vijnana-bhiksu states in his Sankhya Pravacana Bhasya:

brahma-mimamsayam kenapi sutrenavidya-matrato bandhasyanuktatat. avibhago vacanaditya-sutrair-brahma-mimamsaya abhipretas-yavibhaga-laksanadraitasy-avidyadivastavatve’pyavirodhaccha. yat tu vedanta-bruvanamadhunikasya mayavadas-yatra lingam drsyate tat tesamapi vijnanavadyeka-desitaya yuktameva.

There is not a single Brahma-sutra in which bondage is declared to be a mere deception. As to the novel theory of maya propounded by vedanta-bruva (those who claim to be Vedantists), it is only another type of Buddhist of the Vijnanavada school (vijnana-vadyekadesin). This theory has nothing to do with Vedanta and it should be understood that this doctrine of these new Buddhists, who assert the theory of maya and reduce our bondage to mere illusion is in this way refuted. (Sankhya Pravacana Bhasya 1.22)

Later on in his work, Vijnana-bhiksu also quotes the famous verse from Padma Purana (mayavadam asat-chastram). Vijnana-bhiksu considered Buddhism to be nastikavada, or atheism, as it was opposed to Vedic thought. Thus, in effect, he was declaring Mayavadis to be out and out atheists.

Amongst all acaryas and philosophers, Sri Madhvacarya was certainly the most hostile towards Sankara. Throughout his campaign to establish his philosophy of Dvaitavada, Madhva continuously attacked Mayavada, which he considered to be the worst kind of heresy. In his Anu-vyakhyana, Brhad-bhasya and Tattvodyota, Madhva also makes the claim that the Advaitins are crypto-Buddhists – na ca sunyavadinah sakasad vailaksanyam mayavadinah (there is no doctrinal difference between Buddhism and Mayavada). He even quotes Buddhist texts and compares them to Advaitin works to prove his point.


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    btw, it is not so much that Sankara was a crypto-Buddhist; the Mahayana Buddhists are crypto-Advaitists... – Swami Vishwananda Feb 21 '17 at 10:55
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    @Vishal prabhu lawande Advaitins themselves do not call them Mayavadi ... it is other which others call them.. it might be because Advaitins hold world is illusion (due to Maya)... however another good name for Advaitins can also be 'Brahmavadi'. As Advaitins hold everything is Brahman (even their self)... – Tezz Feb 21 '17 at 11:48
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    @Vishalprabhulawande Advaitists do not call themselves Mayavadis. Advaitists do not assert that Maya is superior to Brahman. – Swami Vishwananda Feb 21 '17 at 13:56
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    @RakeshJoshi Good one "Might be Chaitanya, Madhwa, Ramanuja, Desikan, Yamuna were not as sharp as Prof Sharma". I totally agree with this "To say that Vedas and buddhism is one and the same is making mockery of vedas. Buddhas and Jinas are referred as Shramanas and Mahashramanas by acharyas". I agree with you Nastikas Support Shunyavada which is not at all similar to Vedic Philosophies. – Yogi Feb 23 '17 at 14:19
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    @Vishalprabhulawande here's a book by a Srivaishanava scholar on the differences between Advaita and Visishtadvaita based on Satadushani. archive.org/details/AdvaitaAndVisistadvaitaS.M.Srinivasachari – Ambi Nov 26 '18 at 14:06

It is very natural that Vaishnavas do not like Sankara's interpretation of Vedanta. You can read my answer to another question here:

Did Shankara reject some doctrines of Atman or Brahman in order to reconcile Atman and Brahman?

Sankaracharya calls worshippers of forms as beginners and Brahman with form as not Its true essence. Naturally Sankara was called praccanna Bauddha by worshippers of forms of Brahman.

  • But he believed in single atman that it self brahman... he doesnt believe in multiple souls are jivas, according to this logic he rejectes personalized atman, he accepts only universal atman, as only universal atamn exists in all, when one is realized every piece atom get realized should get moksha.. @pradipgangopadhyay but unfortunately even this basic is very difficult understand because of blind followers of his philosophy – Prasanna R Jul 19 '19 at 6:42
  • Both form and no-form are attributes of Brahman. We cannot put a limit on Him that He MUST have form or He MUST NOT have form. – mar May 27 at 20:40

In his book The Advaita Tradition in Indian Philosophy: A Study of Advaita in Buddhism, Vedanta and Kashmira Shaivism, Prof. Chandradhar Sharma (formerly Professor of Philosophy Banaras Hindu University and then Chair of Philosophy at University of Jabalpur and Visiting Professor in the University of Allahabad) says on pages 34-35:

Many Vedic schools of Indian philosophy have noticed the similarities between Mahayana Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta. Eminent Advaitins like Gaudapada, Shriharsa and Chitsukha have pointed out the similarities between Mahayana and Vedanta. Gaudapada approves of the doctrine of ajativada and the critique of causation in Shunyavada and the arguments of Vijnanavada against realism (Gaudapada-karika IV, 5, 19, 22, 28, 72.). Shriharsa says that the onslaught of the dialectic of Shunyavada and Advaita Vedanta is valid against all views and cannot be set aside (Khandana-khanda-khadya, p. 61.). Chitsuka admits the similarity of the Madhyamika distinction between samvrti and paramartha with the Vedantic distinction between vyavahara and paramartha and defends the former against the attacks of Kumarila Bhatta (Tattva-pradipika, pp. 42-3.). Even Kumarila, who is an arch-opponent of Buddhism, admits that anatmavada is helpful for purification of mind and detachment. The theistic Vedantins, Bhaskara, Ramanuja, Madhva, etc., are unanimous in condemning the Advaitin as a crypto-Buddhist (prachchhanna-Bauddha) which shows that they admit the similarities between Mahayana and Advaita Vedanta.

The fact that Buddha carried on, according to his own realisation, the Upanisadic tradition of Absolutism and that Mahayana Buddhists developed it in the light of the teaching of their Founder, is undeniable. Can anyone say that Buddha who accepts the Absolutism of the Upanisads and Mahayana Buddhists who follow him and develop it are opposed to the Upanisadic tradition, because they reject the ultimate reality of the individual self, while the schools of Vaishesika and Nyaya which pay allegiance to the Vedas, but which have reduced the self to an eternal substance devoid of consciousness and bliss like a stone-slab have continued the Upanisadic tradition?

Thus we see that Buddha's teachings of pratityasamutpada, anatmavada, Nirvana, spiritual discipline and his silence on the avyakrta reveal him as a great teacher of absolutism who carried on the tradition of the Upanisadic seers...Hinayana schools of...due to an imperfect understanding of these teachings, forgot his absolutism and created a metaphysics of radical pluralism in the form of the theory of momentary elements in their Abhidharma treatises and commentaries thereon. They substituted the dogmatism of the eternalists by an equally strong dogmatism of momentary elements which culminates in nihilism...The contradictions on Hinyayana philosophy were pointed out by Mahayana schools of Madhyamika and early Vijnanavada who correctly interpreted the absolutism of the Founder [Buddha]. The germs of the important doctrines of Mahayana are scattered in the Pitakas themselves, especially in the Suttapitaka, where there are many passages containing the spiritual absolutism of Buddha.

Prof. Sharma goes int great detail in his book comparing the various aspects of Advaita and Mahayana to conclude that they are the same (as from the quote above). Those Vedantic commentators who compared Buddhism to nihilism were doing so on a limited understanding of the Hinayana school only and not on the Mahayana school. Tibetian Buddhist monks (who are followers of the Mahayana tradition) have also told me that there is no difference between Advaita and Mahayana. Buddha was a proponent of the Upanishads tradition. Rather than a calling Sankara a crypto-Buddhist, it is probably more logical to call Buddhists crypto-Advaitists.

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    "Buddha was a proponent of the Upanishads tradition". Which buddhist suttas refer to upanishadas? – Aks Feb 21 '17 at 15:04
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    If at all Buddhas had no issues with upanishad then why would buddhism exist ? But i m happy that you accepted that buddhism and vedanta are same. whoever might have borrowed from whomsoever.. Might me Chaitanya, Madhwa, Ramanuja, Desikan, Yamuna were not as sharp as Prof Sharma – Rakesh Joshi Feb 21 '17 at 15:15
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    @RakeshJoshi "you accepted that buddhism and vedanta are same" ADVAITA Vedanta is similar, not all vedanta is similar to buddhism. Rest of vedantins consider world real, believe in Ishvara who is not just an upadhi of brahman, maintain some kind of difference between Jivatma and Ishvara. Pretty much opposite of what Buddha teaches. – Aks Feb 21 '17 at 15:24
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    All the acharyas have commented on each other and Sankara in his book has criticized all the existing philosophies of that time. So these words does not suit an advaita vedantin whose acharyas have criticized all the philosophies and sects to uphold his views. Criticism is an integral part of vedanta. – Rakesh Joshi Feb 21 '17 at 15:27
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    you need to separate the followers of Buddha and the doctrines that came after him from Buddha himself. All the different Buddhist sects do not interpret him correctly, and most Hindus have not studied Buddhism and are making their opinions from hearsay and limited exposure. – Swami Vishwananda Feb 22 '17 at 13:54

All Vedanta schools must have Atman at the core of all sentient beings (Bhagavad Gita 2.17-30). If it does not, then it is not Vedanta. Regardless of whether it is Dvaita, Advaita, Visishtadvaita, Shuddhādvaita or Bhedabheda, all have Atman and Brahman.

Similarly, all Buddhist schools must have no Atman or Self in all phenomena, regardless of whether it is unconditioned phenomena (Nirvana) or conditioned phenomena. If it does not fulfill this, then it is not Buddhism. This is confirmed in the essay "Vedanta and Buddhism: A Comparative Study" by German indologist Professor Helmuth von Glasenapp. This essay includes a definition of Atman or Self, that is consistent with Bhagavad Gita 2.17-30. This applies to all Hinayana / Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana schools.

This topic of Atman is a fundamental irreconcilable difference between Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism.

By this definition, since Adi Shankaracharya preached Atman at the core of all beings, he could not have been a Buddhist, crypto or otherwise. This can be seen in his compositions: Atma Bodha, Vivekachudamani, Aparokshanubhuti, Tattva Bodha and his commentaries.

Also, since Mahayana Buddhists ultimately accept that there is no Atman in all phenomena, they could not be Advaitins, crypto or otherwise. Some Mahayana concepts may have been mistaken for Brahman or Atman. For example, the Eternal Buddha refers to the Dharmakāya, the Buddha's "Dharma Body" or his body of teachings, and not his Self or spiritual form. This originates from the Buddha's saying in the Vakkali Sutta that "he who sees Dharma, sees me; he who sees me, sees Dharma."

Despite this, it is likely that Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism would have had some degree of influence on each other, but not to the point of becoming the same thing.

The conclusion here is that Adi Shankaracharya was not a crypto-Buddhist, because he did not reject Atman. Attacking Advaita Vedanta as being Buddhism, is a straw man fallacy (quoted below). Also seen in this comment by Swami Vishwananda - "Advaitists do not call themselves Mayavadis. Advaitists do not assert that Maya is superior to Brahman". "Mayavada" is yet another straw man argument.

A straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not presented by that opponent. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be "attacking a straw man".

  • Be clear on what are you concluding ? – Rakesh Joshi Feb 4 '18 at 15:37
  • @RakeshJoshi Updated answer to have a clear conclusion. – ruben2020 Feb 4 '18 at 15:43
  • Sir you quoted Buddhist verse "he who sees Dharma, sees me; he who sees me, sees Dharma." But is it similar to Gita Verse 6.30-31??Yes or no?? The Dhammakāya tradition of Thailand and the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras of the ancient Indian tradition view the dharmakāya as the ātman (true self) of the Buddha present within all beings. – Sethu Srivatsa Koduru Nov 29 '20 at 9:48
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    @SethuSrivatsaKoduru No. Tathagatagarbha or Buddha Nature refers to the potential of every person to become liberated. The Dharmakaya or Dharma Body refers to the body of teachings the Buddha left behind. The Buddha meant that there is nothing special about his body or personality. If you want to know what's special about him, look at his teachings. Regarding the self or atman, the Buddha said taught "sabbe dhamma anatta" or "all phenomena is not self" (Dhammapada 279). In SN 35.85 and SN 35.205, he taught that all phenomena is empty of a self. – ruben2020 Nov 29 '20 at 10:36
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    @SethuSrivatsaKoduru No. That kind of idea does exist in Buddhism but it's called śāśvata-dṛṣṭi, and the Buddha considered it a false view. Please refer to the link. – ruben2020 Nov 29 '20 at 14:41

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