This website, of dubious reliability, claims that Adi Shankaracharya lost in a debate against the Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu:

Towards the end of his short life, defeated in debate by the Buddhist Mahapandita Vasubandhu, Adi Shankaracharya was compelled to embrace Buddhism once again, as was the norm then. He died out of the sheer shame of his defeat!

My question isn't about the claim concerning how he died; I'm pretty sure that at least Hindu sources say that he died by merging into the famous Lingam at Kedarnath to attain Moksha.

But I'm wondering whether it's true that Adi Shankaracharya had a debate with Vasubandhu. Are there any records of such a debate? If so, what were the points debated and what was the result? I highly doubt that the result would have been Adi Shankaracharya being forced to accept Buddhism.

  • wasn't Kumarila Bhatta Buddhist, who was defeated by Shankara? Jul 7 '14 at 6:00
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    @VineetMenon No, Kumarila Bhatta was a staunch Hindu from the Purva Mimamsa tradition who spent his life arguing against the Buddhists. His disciple Mandana Mishra debated Adi Shankara and lost, and so became Adi Shankara's disciple. But Shankara did win against Budshists in many other debates. Jul 7 '14 at 6:12
  • ..and btw, that link looks dubiously propagandist. There aren't any other alternate sources available for the incidence he's citing. Jul 7 '14 at 6:42
  • @VineetMenon Yeah, it seems like a really unreliable and biased site, which is why I'm trying to verify the claim here. Jul 7 '14 at 6:45
  • Did any Buddhist scholar respond the criticism of Buddhism in Brahma Sutra? Jul 23 '18 at 16:50
  1. Shankara never considered Buddhists as serious threat for mainstream Hinduism or its Philosophical thoughts. In his Magnum opus Sutra Bhashya (the work which also has one of its objectives as para-paksha-khandana [refuting other thoughts with aid of anubhava and yukti]) he has regarded Sankhyas as pradhānamalla (cheif opponent) (Sū. Bhā. 1.4.28) with whom defeated all others will be defeated.

  2. Shankara and Vasubandhu lived nearly 200 years apart. Vasubandhu lived in 5th century . So no chance of any discussion or conversion.

    2a. Shankara in his Sutra Bhashya 2.2.28 discusses a kaarika (shloka) of Diṅnāga who is a Shishya of Vasubandhu. He lived in 5th Century.

    2b. Shankara also discusses about Gunamati (Sū. Bhā. 2.2.22) who lived in 7 th century.

Advaita is not mere intellectual speculation, It has to understood by Guru who has knowledge and expertise in teaching of Real-I which is encompassing even the self-identity (I) (vykatitva) and world. With this aspect in mind: duality, idols, puja (symbols) are all just expression of Self for a Atmajnani and for a Sadhaka it is a technique to revisit his own self. Shankara never disowned murti-puja or any sadhanas. Besides he emphasizes all necessary sadhanas according to ones maturity level. Refer (Sū. Bhā. 3.4.26) and through out his works.

  • Thanks. Could you find a more authoritative source on the time period of Vasubhandu? Some people believe that there were two Vasubhandus. Is it possible that at least one of them was a contemporary of Shankara? Jul 16 '14 at 14:47
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    The Vasubandhu in connection with Dingnaga is younger Vasubandhu. His times are 400-480 AD. The another is the elder Vasubandhu (320-380). In any case both predate Shankaracarya. Since Vasubandhu was reffered by HuanTsang (596-664 AD) it can be inferred that he predated him. Jul 17 '14 at 9:18
  • Do you have sources for those dates? Jul 18 '14 at 18:41
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    I thought any queries regarding Acharyas of buddhism should be answered by Buddhism SE. So I posed the question there which yielded this (answer)[ buddhism.stackexchange.com/q/2200/536] which puts Vasubandhu to 3rd or 4th century. Jul 19 '14 at 15:32
  • OK, thanks. Could you incorporate the information in the footnote of the article cited in that answer into your answer? Here's the footnote: www.dharmafellowship.org/library/essays/yogacara-part1.htm#one Jul 20 '14 at 5:16

I think the story that adi shankaracharya fought against budhism is a british-colonialist concocted story. Shankaracharya verses hardly refers to budha or bushism, or his contemporary mahaveer.

Likely that shankaracharya was pre-budha by a few centuries. Shankaracharya had two objectives.

He popularized upanishads which emerged during the mahajanapadas. He was instrumental is the vedic brahmins who migrated out of the saraswati belt moving into different locations and shifting to new faiths of the location, to help accept upanishads, and develop respect for asceticism and their ashrams. Thus shankaracharya restored the position for brahmins as knowledge-bearers of ancient wisdom, else the brahmins were getting into other faiths and leading its propaganda-engine like they did with budha a few centuries later.

Shankaracharya also wanted brahmins to practice their knowledge and be stayput at one place. He was against them travelling from one place to another without roots, for whatever reasons. Infact shankara gave lower recognition to brahmins who were the migrating types and gave greater respect to those who stayput, especially those who believed that they were settled to the place by lord parasurama.

Shankaracharya placed skanda in good importance of worship as other 5 gods. This got him acceptance as a learned across sections of society and across the country. And his ascetic living got him respect from the sanyasis across india. He is truly the jagadguru. Evidenced not just by his teachings. But also from his ideas that he applied across the country.

  • Welcome to Hinduism.SE! You should cite sources. May 11 '15 at 22:06
  • Also, Adi Shankaracharya was most definitely not before Buddha; Adi Shankaracharya discusses Buddhist philosophy at length in his Brahma Sutra Bhashya. And even if he didn't debate Vasubandhu, he most certainly debated other Buddhists, he reclaimed the Badri temple after it was taken over from Buddhists, etc. See my answer here for Adi Shankaracharya's role in defeating Buddhist critiques of Hinduism: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/3796/36 May 11 '15 at 22:16
  • The mahajanapada post-vedic-phase influenced across the country. The upanishads got written that time. The shramana ascetic culture which was lying low during the orthodox vedic period, gathered momentum during post-vedic mahajanapadas. The vedic brahmins didn't accept the ascetic values. They were family oriented materialistic in nature with gods and ritualism. May 12 '15 at 21:34
  • The budhism and jainism came must towards the end of the mahajapadas. However, shankaracharya helped establish brahmins from loosing their identity to the deserving knowledge bearers. Shankaracharya argued against the sakas who were taking to a different direction. This is interpreted by many as he debating with budhists. The problem is that the western religions are in the phase as was our vedic religion. They cannot imagine a phase when there is fatigue from ritualism and spiritual thinking surfaces like during the mahajapadas. So they want to show everything as conflct of doctrines. May 12 '15 at 21:36
  • Many of the ascetic ashrams received free voluntary services from people that they became rich, wealthy, free of famine and diseases. This increased the gap between them and the people. The local kings were not protecting them as well. So they feared loot and plunder in the hands of the local people during famines. When shankaracharya came in with his teachings, the kings received it well. The ascetics also received it well. So several of the wealthy ashrams took to shankara's line to feel more secure and gained the local king's support for protection. The brtish interpretation is different. May 12 '15 at 21:50

The whole so called historical Shanakara vs budhista is a modern political construct.The fact that nany other vedantists called Shanakara a pracchana bauddha -crypto Budhist--shows that Shankara teachings had things common to Budhism,a natural thing ,as both are monists-idealists of varying degrees. The anti budhist arguments in Shanakara are not much ,either in force or in volume. What he opposed in Budhism,philosophically ,is their extreme Nihilsm (Shunyavada).not whole of it.Even Kunarila who opposed both Budhism and Advaitha vedantha, had words of appreciation for Budha.Those great men were not petty types to see other philosophers as enemies .Even crediting kumarila for the decline of Budhism,as a philosophy or as a religion,is an over staement,because Budhism had f aded out into another sect by his time .Of course. budha and Budhism had prestige in scholarly circles. It is also clear that the Budhist logic and stance had clear similarity with upanishadic thought and so also adavaithic line had drawn elements from budhism It is all natuaral in the history of any philosophical stream
of any country or community No school or line is toatally exclusive or independent It simply cannot be so. Dr M prabhakara Joshy, Mangalore


There was a culture of ascetic ashrams in india which existed parallel to Vedic living. It did influence Vedic culture with its thinking as can be seen from rig Vedic slokas like rudram.

The problem here is we regard all ascetic philosophies of those times as budhism. Infact budhism and Jainism came at the end of the post-Vedic times of the maha-janapadas where the different schools of ascetic ashrams were dominating. So it is wrong to consider all ascetic philosophies from that time as budhists.

Shankara is busy getting Brahmins to consider ascetic values as respectful, and not merely be obsessed with family members and belongings, appearance. The kings in later years challenged the budhists with the descendents of shankaracharyas to reap the rewards to expecting goodies from there monasteries.

Please refer the wiki below and this community believes that shankaracharya existed just 100 years after budha's birth. 404 BC. And highlights the practice of the kings to use the shankaracharya descendants to take them for debates with budhists. Shamedi - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  • @Shyam- Descendents of Shankaracharya? Who are these unknown descendents?
    – user808
    Jul 14 '15 at 13:01
  • @Krishna I think Shyam means the later Shankaracharyas, as opposed to Adi Shankaracharya. He doesn't mean biological descendants of Adi Shankaracharya. Jul 14 '15 at 22:01
  • @Shyam- the existence Adi Shamkara in BC is debatable and there are no sufficient proof to say that. Keeping it that way, it is for the same reason, that most of the works which are attributed to Adi Shankara were works of later day shankaracharyas. Imagine some 3000 works are attrubuted to Adu Shankara and there is still inconsustencies among the followers of Adi Shamkara. In principle, as well critically only some 15 to 20 works are considered to originally authored by Adi Shankara.
    – user808
    Jul 15 '15 at 10:34

The whole inside and outside pot analogy of atman is simplistic. Buddha had it right. Even the space is impermanent! It arises and passes and lies within existence. It took Buddha's enlightened eye to see the truth of the impermanence of the atman that Hindus thought was eternal. To the nihilism comment, apparently Shankaracharya did not understand Buddhism. There is no nihilism. The being that was the Buddha does not arise again, as the fuel for the arising is no longer present. That is all. There is no more coming into existence. The question of soul atman etc is moot, as there is no basis for a question...no questions apply. As Buddha said, when a fire is put out, where does it go? The answer: the question has no basis. Nirvana cannot be spoken of or questioned, as no questions apply. It is non-arising, non-becoming.

Einstein understood. He found evn space was curved, and not permanent and unchanging.

Don't compare Buddha with any of these Hindu saints, who are like children arguing with an adult.

  • So where did the "fuel" come from? Hinduism answers it as pointing towards eternality of soul but how do Buddhas answer It? Mar 31 '18 at 22:18
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    The fuel is our karmic action from the past...The store is probably the deeper layers of consciousness. When consciousness dissolves at death, the Karmic seeds take root where condition for the springing of life occurs. There is no transmigration required. There is arising and passing. Life is likened to an event. No seeds are left for a Buddha, as he/she has no Karma left.
    – SPr
    Apr 1 '18 at 0:54
  • So, Buddhas believe that soul is tied to karma, as karma finishes soul ends, where did the soul come from then? Why is their samsara? Apr 1 '18 at 1:02
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    You should cite some sources. Visit guidelines
    – Pandya
    Apr 1 '18 at 1:05
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    There is no unchanging soul in Buddhism. The 5 characteristics we are made from: Consciousness, perceptions, mentations, feelings and corporeality (body) together make us think there is an atman. But Buddha says that is just an imputation. Take the characteristics away and there is nothing left.
    – SPr
    Apr 1 '18 at 1:13

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