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, 2014 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, 2014 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, 2014 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, 2014 at 6:45
  • Did any Buddhist scholar respond the criticism of Buddhism in Brahma Sutra? Jul 23, 2018 at 16:50

1 Answer 1

  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, 2014 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, 2014 at 9:18
  • Do you have sources for those dates? Jul 18, 2014 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, 2014 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, 2014 at 5:16

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