Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

General discussion, particularly exploring the Dharma in the modern world.
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coldmountains
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Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

Post by coldmountains »

Hello everyone. I'm new to this forum; it seems like a great resource and I look forward to getting to know the community. I'm not exactly new to Buddhism, but I've only recently become a Buddhist, as opposed to merely a sympathizer. I wanted to ask the community why they chose Buddhism over, say, Vedanta or other mystical and/or meditative traditions. I ask because there's always been a nagging question in the back of my mind. You have two meditation masters who have practiced for decades, one Buddhist and one Hindu. The former teaches dependent origination, impermanence and no-self, the latter teaches the exact opposite, true being/identity and absolute selfhood (atman). I've often wondered how it can be that these two teachers, after meditating and undergoing comparable practices and techniques, wind up in two utterly opposite trajectories, and perhaps more importantly, how one can know who is right (since the high attainments of both are not exactly easily accessible or common experiences)? What does Buddhism say specifically about the pure/infinite/absolute consciousness that Vedantic masters claim to achieve? What persuaded you that Buddhism has got it right over Vedanta? I'm looking for specific reasons, arguments, or references. Thanks in advance.
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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

Post by Wayfarer »

That is quite a controversial topic on Dharmawheel and often gives rise to debates. So I will try and answer from my perspective, as a Westerner who has encountered both traditions, initially through the kinds of popular spiritual books in circulation in the West.

Two of the first 'spiritual books' that I discovered were The Teachings of Ramana Maharishi, and Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, way back in the early 1970's. I thought both of them very meaningful books that spoke to me on a very deep level. I still remember when I first read Ramana Maharishi, having a deep conviction that 'this is ultimate truth'. But then I found that the other book, that I got around the same time, and which is the foundation text of the San Francisco Zen Centre, actually seemed a lot more realistic for a lay-practitioner who wasn't actually in proximity to a teacher like Ramana Maharishi. It was very pragmatic, and very clear-eyed. It wasn't as 'mystical' in some ways, but it has this kind of directness and practicality. I was a bit apprehensive about the kind of asceticism that seemed to be associated with Ramana. And also as the years passed, I came to understand that the teachings of Master Dogen are actually very profound and based on deep philosophical principles, even though they seem very simple.

So over the years, I read plenty of other books, and went to talks by various visiting yogis, swamis, and Rinpoches. But in the end, I personally opted for Buddhism. I still maintained some respect for the Vedanta approach, but I think overall the Buddhist understanding is more realistic and certainly more adaptable to modern times and other cultures.

At the same time, I don't really like the kind of sectarian attitude that you often see in debates over this topic. I think it is because that in the culture in which both traditions originated, they were philosophical opponents, going back into ancient history. After all, in the end Buddhism died out in India, whilst Vedanta survived as the kind of 'indigenous tradition'. So it is a sensitive issue, and also very hard to understand all the philosophical issues in depth without a lot of study (and maybe even knowledge of Sanskrit).

Anyway as this board is a Buddhist board, part of the Terms of Service is that it is dedicated to discussion of Buddhist principles and practice. From time to time other teachings do come up, but I think proselytizing or advocating for other traditions is not in keeping with the ToS. I think respectful discussion of the similarities and differences is OK, but bear in mind the sensitivities around the topic.

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Malcolm
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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

Post by Malcolm »

coldmountains wrote:What persuaded you that Buddhism has got it right over Vedanta?
Nāgārjuna.
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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

Post by Rick »

Malcolm shoots, he scores! :-)
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily ...
coldmountains
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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

Post by coldmountains »

Hello wayfarer,

Thanks for the reply. I certainly agree that the subject should be treated with respect. I hold to the Buddhist view; I'm merely wondering about Buddhist response(s) to Vedanta. Since the disagreement between them is genuine on matters of both doctrine and insight, then it seems to me that it can't hurt to ask about it. One thing I'm wondering about is the Buddhist treatment of the Vedantic master's experience of "absolute consciousness" or "being/consciousness/bliss"? For instance, is this an experience that Buddhist meditators also experience but interpret differently, or is it an experience that needs to be cultivated by methods unique to Vedanta, and hence is essentially inaccessible to the Buddhist? I think I have an adequate understanding of the general philosophical or "metaphysical" differences between the two. Emptiness and dependent origination deconstruct metaphysical substances including the "pure consciousness substratum" or "pure being" of Vedanta. But then there's the question of what exactly is Vedanta achieving? From a Buddhist perspective, what is the meaning of Vedantic experiences of awakening and enlightenment? Again I know this is a difficult question because the experiences are uncommon, but it seems likely that some authorities must have addressed this matter.
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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

Post by Wayfarer »

They are the very kinds of questions that often result in long debates (see for example http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=97&t=19453). Buddhists might say that the because the ātman doesn't really exist, the Vedanta is based on false premises. The Vedantins will then reply that the Buddhists really believe in nothing and that they're really nihilists in disguise. And those debates have been going on for centuries, so again it is hard not to get drawn into a sectarian debate. My personal preference is for a kind of ecumenical attitude, on the grounds that modern culture is beset by the kind of materialism that thinks all forms of spirituality are an illusion, and the fact that they all seem to contradict one another is a very good argument for their side of the debate. So I would rather believe that there are 'many paths up the mountain', and a degree of mutual recognition between all the traditions, but that is unpopular with a lot of people too. So maybe there is no way of reconciling these divergences - in which case another approach is to simply try and understand them from the viewpoint of comparative studies, which simply spells out the various traditions and the arguments for and against their various views.

Beyond that, if you want to argue the case for Buddhism over Vedanta, then you need to master the very many subtleties of philosophical dialectic.
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi
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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

Post by anjali »

coldmountains wrote:What persuaded you that Buddhism has got it right over Vedanta? I'm looking for specific reasons, arguments, or references.
When I first encountered the "the indivisibility of emptiness and cognizance", as discussed in detail in Tulku Urgyen's book, As It Is, Vol. 2, that was it for me. It's my opinion that anyone who has spent any time studying Advaita Vedanta needs to read As It Is, Vol 2.
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Saoshun
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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

Post by Saoshun »

Actually what Ramana teaches it's just this, loooking for an "I" when you look for it you will not find it s you get realization of anatta which can greatly contribiute for realization, it's just hindu trekchod.
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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

Post by SeeLion »

The theistic Vedanta and the a-theistic Vedanta and also Buddhism call for transcending the conventional self.

Personally, I find impractical to dig into too much philosophy beyond that, until that goal is reached.

Also, when the theory gets too much distance from what is practically applicable, that also seems a waste of effort.

I admit to my limited knowledge, but I see features of no-self and atman that are not necessarily contradictory.

Atman is so vaguely immaterial and formless, it's not really a "thing", you can't really call it a true self. Vedanta hasn't "produced" an atman that one can "work with".

Also, the no-self doctrine mostly debunks the illusory self: "We have looked into what people call self and we haven't found it there". It is not in position to exclude the existence of a "self" outside that specific scope of investigation. And the claim that the scope of investigation would be infinite, and nothing could escape it, that I cannot accept.
But then there's the question of what exactly is Vedanta achieving? From a Buddhist perspective, what is the meaning of Vedantic experiences of awakening and enlightenment? Again I know this is a difficult question because the experiences are uncommon, but it seems likely that some authorities must have addressed this matter.
That is an interesting question, but I doubt there is an answer. And I would be extremely skeptical if such answer would be produced.

How would you compare two enlightened experiences ? When somebody has an experience and tries to put it into words, most of the experience gets lost.
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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

Post by Dan74 »

I found the Dharma and a great Dharma teacher who I could feel I could learn a lot from (or unlearn :thinking: ). It was not a matter of comparing traditions or making sure mine was 'the best' whatever that means.

I liken it to a hungry man who finally comes to a street full of restaurants. Just check enough to see that the food is reasonably nutritious and clean and if the chef is good - fantastic, no need to worry which cuisine is superior when you are starving.

_/|\_
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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

Post by Astus »

coldmountains wrote:1. how one can know who is right (since the high attainments of both are not exactly easily accessible or common experiences)?
2. What does Buddhism say specifically about the pure/infinite/absolute consciousness that Vedantic masters claim to achieve?
3. What persuaded you that Buddhism has got it right over Vedanta?
1. Knowing which one is right is already accepting one and rejecting the other. There is no objective - third point of view - measurement.

2. An absolute consciousness is the mistaken view of grasping at self within a sophisticated teaching. That is, unlike ordinary beings who don't philosophise, in this case it is a cultivated view. And it is a wrong view, since it contradicts dependent origination and results in dissatisfaction. Also, since nobody ever experiences a permanent self, it is just a conceptual fantasy.

3. "When one reaches the height of the second stage, he realises that the concept of the 'I' does not exist. But he has only abandoned the small 'I' and has not negated the concept of basic substance or the existence of God; you may call it Truth, the one and only God, the Almighty, the Unchanging Principle, or even the Buddha of Buddhism. If you think that it is real, then you are still in the realm of the big 'I' and have not left the sphere of philosophy and religion." See: What is Chan?; summary: Three Stages of Chan Meditation.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"
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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

Post by Huseng »

coldmountains wrote:... why they chose Buddhism over, say, Vedanta or other mystical and/or meditative traditions.
At the end of the day, there's actually no such thing as Buddhism in the singular. It is plural: Buddhisms. Malcolm cites Nāgārjuna, but we need to be aware that not everyone in India agreed with him and in fact his opinions were probably not representative of Indian Buddhism until the late centuries. Sarvāstivāda and its wing of Abhidharma were probably better representative of mainstream Indian Buddhism. Their idea of dharmas existing simultaneously in the past, present and future is what Nāgārjuna is attacking in the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. Presumably the Sarvāstivādins regarded Nāgārjuna's ideas as erroneous and possibly even heretical.

For various reasons, many modern western minds are attracted to Madhyamaka, perhaps because of modern tendencies towards nihilism and deconstructionism. Nāgārjuna of course was not a nihilist, but it is easy to misunderstand him as such. In the west we've been constantly having to revise earlier views and conclusions because of the scientific method coupled with vast ongoing social changes, so much that people are prone to crave something absolute and irrefutable. Madhyamaka can possibly offer that. You dissolve all views and hence are secure in your position that anything aside from your immutable absolute principle is simply conventional reality and thus not to be emotionally invested in.

The irrefutably of such a position, since ultimately you hold no views, means you are immune to attacks from anyone who does hold views, such as materialist scientists and philosophers. It also means cosmologically you are better than the ignorant gods who just haven't figured out śūnyatā yet: you as a short-lived human managed to learn in a few years what Brahma couldn't in how many immeasurable millennia.

Nāgārjuna was indeed my fascination for several years and I read Madhyamaka literature in detail, in particular using the commentaries of Jizang 吉藏 in Chinese. However, as time goes on I realize there's a lot of limitations to such an experience denying philosophy. I imagine someone might criticize me and say Madhyamaka does not deny experience, it only renders it conventional, but in practice the whole project is aimed at eliminating reification of perceived phenomena (svabhava) which thereafter undercuts the root cause of the saṃsāric mind (reification of the self), and consequently suffering, in theory, is simultaneously remedied.

After several years of travel and tribulations I'm not convinced in practice it really works out as it is supposed to on paper. Part of this is from observation of living individuals who are supposed to exemplify these teachings. Some are sagely, yes, but in general they and their organizations display the same old human tendencies and flaws.

In other words, the teachings and their promised outcome sound too good to be true, and that's probably the case. You can suggest you know people who truly are realized and have advanced beyond all reification of phenomena (and can levitate but would never show you), but I tend to just see that as idealistic if not wishful thinking. People who come to Asia in particular in search of a realized guru are most likely to find (create) one given their own mental projections and unaddressed desires. When I was in robes people used to project all manner of qualities onto me and prostrate to me in public, which I was never comfortable with because I know what a flawed human being I am. That was an eye opener because I realized all the celebrity teachers that people parade around probably (hopefully) feel the same way about themselves.

Years ago I studied Indian philosophy as well as a good amount of Stoicism alongside Buddhist philosophy and practice. I ultimately decided to become a self-identifying Buddhist and ended up going on meditation retreats and even getting an advanced degree in Buddhist Studies in Japan (my MA degree) before translating several books on Buddhist topics from the vinaya to sutras. Right now I'm also doing a PhD, researching Buddhist astrology in the Tang dynasty. I also went so far as becoming a monk, which ended up in great disappointment. The modern sangha in any country can hardly be called pristine and I found I couldn't bear to be associated with this institution.

Consequently, I'm much more willing again to look at the philosophies I studied years ago, in particular Stoicism and various approaches to mysticism which value and work with experience in every form it comes, both the painful and the pleasant. At a certain level too I have a lot of respect for simple polytheism: the veneration of various gods and spirits without the assumption you are or could be wiser than them. Whether this leads to liberation from saṃsāra or not aside, traditionally polytheist cultures view life as something to be enjoyed and not to be rejected. I think most Buddhists in any case don't really believe saṃsāra is all that bad since they invest so many resources in beautifying temples and trying to maximize their longevity through gaining merit and so on.

I've not abandoned Buddhism, but basically I've come to dismiss a lot of these self-identification labels and focus on more day to day objectives. I spent many years employing Madhyamaka methods and samadhi to dissolve my mental faculties and see this composite being named Jeffrey for what it is: a composite being. This was quite beneficial and I'm quite happy I spent most of my twenties engaged in such a contemplative practice, but now I just find myself more interested in lived experience as a fragile and flawed human being. I'm convinced there exists fate or destiny, and 90% of what I experience from the air temperature to people I meet is outside my control, so at the end of the day I can either go along with our collective reality or I can fight it and be dragged along.

Perhaps all my experience with Buddhist traditions has resulted in me becoming a crypto-Hindu or pseudo-Stoic.
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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

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Very interesting Jeffrey and most appreciate your candidness and insights born of long experience.

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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

Post by DGA »

coldmountains wrote:What persuaded you that Buddhism has got it right over Vedanta? I'm looking for specific reasons, arguments, or references.
Your question, or rather the evidence you seek (reasons, arguments, textual references) assumes that one's decision to practice Buddhism rather than anything else was an intellectual decision. For me it wasn't. Yes, I read some, and I'm not *completely* ignorant of Vedanta, but for me the decision to pursue this path and not others has to do with the people I've met, the teachers who have impacted and inspired me very deeply, and the confidence I have in the practice at an everyday life level. It's been easy for me to find Buddhist teachers and communities. I've hardly met any practitioners of Vedanta (and why are we privileging Vedanta and not other other paths?).

That's a different canon of evidence from what you seek, but it's one that many of us go by.
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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

Post by muni »

Sorry, I read only the first posts.
the indivisibility of emptiness and cognizance
Wonderful. When there is one knowing emptiness, one knowing dependence, there is divisibility.

:namaste:
The Buddhist point of view as far as I understand, is freedom from any point of view. Buddhism teaches relative truth and Absolute or Ultimate truth, which are in fact not two truths. The teaching itself is not pointing to itself but to that which must be recognized and can never be understood by the comparing judging mind. Since the comparing mind is grasping/clinging to relative truths as being a dichotomy or as the belief in real existing phenomena by its' biased nature.

All relative dharma is to exhaust the grasping mind and push it in the direction to lose itself, not to maintain itself and hold onto the relative as real existences, in which we see again that dichotomy.
There is a lot of "interest" now in Hinduism/Advaita Vedanta by Buddhists. I see that not by the masters, in contrast it is again and again told to stop comparing with other religions for the sake of ones’ own ego’s rightness. This rightness is not Buddhism, but using the medicine as poison or weapon and so not understanding of our own religion. It is again believing in the relative or phenomena to be true and so to exist on their own. While nothing exists on its own, the apprehending conventional dharma included.

Being free from partilaity, Naked Being, the Ground of Being are all expressions used in English for Dzogchen as well. It is often written with a capital. Since it is that what we are: dependence-emptiness, emptiness-clarity, emptiness-appearances,………Therefore this itself is not a contradiction at all but when we read the word, they are very opposed things! However form is emptiness, emptiness is form. So whatever words other religions are using, is none of my business, they need not to fade, but I, the source of all dichotomy and so all harm and suffering has to. It looks sometimes like an obstacle to speak English regarding liberation. Write all these opposing words on water and the water is spontaneously teaching their nature!

Masters like for example H H Dalai Lama are not afraid to be mislead by Hindu-fellows or any other, he listen to them, talks with them, jokes with them and they have nice time together. Maybe he is not a Buddhist and he should stop doing so. However, he is showing the attitude by understanding the Buddhas meaning! He said that time has come that we need a spirituality beyond religions. It flows out of the need of grasping to MY religion, which is killing it purpose, so religions become useless, since again that same grasping to the relative, to words, to culture, to whatever for the sake of ego. I am not calling any religion for this.
I say mind your own business. Lets' look into our own plate! Put a hand on own head since there is the cleaning work to do. Psychologists clean others mind but buddha’s teaching is offered to clean own mind.

There is here a tread on the forum, in which it was asked: can we be Hindu and Buddhist. My answer on that is NO, since one who is Buddhist and Hindu is two, while the one who is Buddhist is already one too much. Buddhism is not to create a new greatest of the greatest ego, draped in clothes of Buddhism or Buddha Dharma. Therefore if you are monk or nun, you cannot hide it, but if you are lay, I should not tell everyone I am a Buddhist, but be human among humans, and be there for the sake of all. My dividing mouth should be immediately washed with a good smelling soap even before words like “I am this and you are less fortunate since you are that” are coming out. The effects of this = bah! Bubbling teachings pointing to toilet visits.

Buddhism gives us a medicine to stop our clinging to own self from which others are flowing, the medicine itself serves not to cling to it but our habits are strong. One thing is sure, as long as we feel the need to defend “our Buddhism” or as long as we maintain the dividing judging mind, we remain in/as samsara. In the bardo of Dharmata at death we need to recognize that all is a projection of own mind, but we train the mind in believing they are real existences on their own apart from us and their characteristics are that their teaching is wrong.
Who is deluded? Me.

EGO is the only problem, the only enemy, the only obstacle. There is no other.

Ps If interested, read the webside in my signature.
Last edited by muni on Mon Aug 31, 2015 1:00 pm, edited 6 times in total.
Conversely, viewing the self as a mere convention or as a designated label for our dynamic stream of experience - consciousness in relation to the body and the world - is in harmony with the interdependent and impermanent nature of reality; and leads to a state of well-being grounded in wisdom, altruism, compassion, and inner freedom.
https://www.matthieuricard.org/en/blog/ ... he-self--2

Simplicity reveals the nature of the mind behind the veil of restless thoughts.
https://www.matthieuricard.org/en/blog/ ... plicity--2
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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

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coldmountains wrote: I wanted to ask the community why they chose Buddhism over, say, Vedanta or other mystical and/or meditative traditions.
I could not agree with any spiritual discipline that thought it was ok to sacrifice animals, regardless of what other things they said or taught. That immediately ruled them out as wrong, with no need to even look any further.

:namaste:
One should not kill any living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite any other to kill. Do never injure any being, whether strong or weak, in this entire universe!
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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

Post by Kim O'Hara »

Wayfarer wrote:Very interesting Jeffrey and most appreciate your candidness and insights born of long experience.

:namaste:
+ 1

:namaste:
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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

Post by muni »

seeker242 wrote:
coldmountains wrote: I wanted to ask the community why they chose Buddhism over, say, Vedanta or other mystical and/or meditative traditions.
I could not agree with any spiritual discipline that thought it was ok to sacrifice animals, regardless of what other things they said or taught. That immediately ruled them out as wrong, with no need to even look any further.

:namaste:
Vedanta sacrificing animals?

Harm done to other beings is always victim - perpetuator, and the perpetuator is also victim. So only suffering victims.
Compassion is practice. When we can do something to protect those victims, we should. But judging them is not so much the way to do so. In Nepal there is change regarding this.
Conversely, viewing the self as a mere convention or as a designated label for our dynamic stream of experience - consciousness in relation to the body and the world - is in harmony with the interdependent and impermanent nature of reality; and leads to a state of well-being grounded in wisdom, altruism, compassion, and inner freedom.
https://www.matthieuricard.org/en/blog/ ... he-self--2

Simplicity reveals the nature of the mind behind the veil of restless thoughts.
https://www.matthieuricard.org/en/blog/ ... plicity--2
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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

Post by dmr82 »

muni wrote: Harm done to other beings is always victim - perpetuator, and the perpetuator is also victim. So only suffering victims.
Compassion is practice. When we can do something to protect those victims, we should. But judging them is not so much the way to do so. In Nepal there is change regarding this.
:good:

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Re: Why Buddhism over Vedanta?

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coldmountains wrote:Hello everyone. I'm new to this forum; it seems like a great resource and I look forward to getting to know the community. I'm not exactly new to Buddhism, but I've only recently become a Buddhist, as opposed to merely a sympathizer. I wanted to ask the community why they chose Buddhism over, say, Vedanta or other mystical and/or meditative traditions. I ask because there's always been a nagging question in the back of my mind. You have two meditation masters who have practiced for decades, one Buddhist and one Hindu. The former teaches dependent origination, impermanence and no-self, the latter teaches the exact opposite, true being/identity and absolute selfhood (atman). I've often wondered how it can be that these two teachers, after meditating and undergoing comparable practices and techniques, wind up in two utterly opposite trajectories, and perhaps more importantly, how one can know who is right (since the high attainments of both are not exactly easily accessible or common experiences)? What does Buddhism say specifically about the pure/infinite/absolute consciousness that Vedantic masters claim to achieve? What persuaded you that Buddhism has got it right over Vedanta? I'm looking for specific reasons, arguments, or references. Thanks in advance.
All religions claim to have the ultimate view of reality, but the thing that snagged my attention is that Buddhism specifically talks about the Hindu view and uses logical arguments to explain why it is erroneous. Buddhism has philosophical arguments for why the Hindu atman cannot possibly exist, while Hinduism's arguments against emptiness were made by people who half-plagiarized Buddhist philosophy. That's why there are polemical Hindus who accuse Adi Shankara of being not just any old heretic, but a crypto-Buddhist.

I feel like Buddhist teachings are more trustworthy because they say, "In your meditation practice you will eventually realize what feels like the ultimate self. This what it feels like, and this is how you surpass it." Are there Hindu instructions on how to surpass the realization of emptiness? They would have to have realized emptiness themselves first, but I've never heard of that happening. There are tons of stories of Buddhist practitioners freeing themselves of the fetters of self-view.

The bodhisattva ideal, vowing to spend eternity saving all sentient beings from their suffering, inspires me more than the karma yoga lifestyle with the ultimate goal of leaving samsara forever. In Buddhism compassion and loving-kindness are always forefront motivations. Karma yoga is nice too, but when you put it next to Buddhism it sounds like it's saying, "Stay in your place (caste?) and just deal with it."

The absolute consciousness that Vedanta master's realize is what is known in Buddhism as alaya-consciousness. They fail to realize that the alaya is empty, and thus they reify it as an ultimate self. I came to this view after reading this essay:

http://www.meditationexpert.com/zen-bud ... duism.html
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