Universal Atman in Buddhism

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Matt J
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by Matt J » Wed May 06, 2015 7:15 pm

I don't think the Upanishadic Atman is necessarily eternalistic, at least not as viewed through the lens of Advaita, so I'm not sure that Bhattacharya's thesis is really revolutionary. It is only revolutionary if one accepts the Atman as presented by the Buddhist schools. Under the Advaita teachings I am familiar with, Brahman-Atman is eternal not in the sense of going on forever, but in the sense that it is beyond time.
"The essence of meditation practice is to let go of all your expectations about meditation. All the qualities of your natural mind -- peace, openness, relaxation, and clarity -- are present in your mind just as it is. You don't have to do anything different. You don't have to shift or change your awareness. All you have to do while observing your mind is to recognize the qualities it already has."
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srivijaya
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by srivijaya » Wed May 06, 2015 7:23 pm

Matt J wrote:Under the Advaita teachings I am familiar with, Brahman-Atman is eternal not in the sense of going on forever, but in the sense that it is beyond time.
Similar to the non-dual systems of Kashmiri Shaivism. Anything beyond space/time is inappropriately labelled eternal in any case. It's a contradiction in terms.

Karma Dondrup Tashi
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by Karma Dondrup Tashi » Wed May 06, 2015 7:32 pm

Sempiternity versus eternity doesn't matter. The dharmic view is that no construct either exists or does not exist. Whereas in perception the Hindu atman can be affirmed, in reality nothing can be affirmed or denied.

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Matt J
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by Matt J » Wed May 06, 2015 10:18 pm

Actually, the Atman is nirguna, so I don't know how you can affirm in the final analysis. Affirmations tend to sublated later.
Karma Dondrup Tashi wrote:Whereas in perception the Hindu atman can be affirmed, in reality nothing can be affirmed or denied.
"The essence of meditation practice is to let go of all your expectations about meditation. All the qualities of your natural mind -- peace, openness, relaxation, and clarity -- are present in your mind just as it is. You don't have to do anything different. You don't have to shift or change your awareness. All you have to do while observing your mind is to recognize the qualities it already has."
--- Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

David Reigle
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by David Reigle » Wed May 06, 2015 10:45 pm

In the fourth chapter of this book, Bhattacharya brings in some criticisms of the ātman from Mahāyāna sources. Two of these sources, the Mahāprajñāpāramitā-śāstra and the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra, give some examples that are found in the Upaniṣads, including the idea found in the Kaṭha-upaniṣad that the ātman is the size of a thumb. Bhattacharya here (pp. 197-199) and earlier (p. 191) pointed out that a number of such ideas are found in the Upaniṣads, but that these ideas do not define the Upaniṣadic ātman as understood in the Hindu Vedānta school, which is based on the Upaniṣads. We do not, however, have to take Bhattacharya’s word for it, since he provides a quotation from the founder of the Advaita Vedānta school, Śaṅkarācārya:

“The words of the Vedānta,” Śaṅkara writes, “have two things in view: sometimes they clarify the nature of the supreme ātman, sometimes they teach the identity of the individual ātman (vijñānātman) with the supreme ātman. Here (in the passage which speaks of the “man no higher than a thumb”), it is the identity of the individual ātman with the supreme ātman that is being taught, and not the size of anything whatsoever.” (Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya 1.3.25)

Nor do we have to trust his translation, because he provides the original Sanskrit (to which I have added some hyphens for easier reading):

dvirūpā hi vedānta-vākyānāṃ pravṛttiḥ: kvacit paramātma-svarūpa-nirūpaṇa-parā, kvacid vijñānātmanaḥ paramātmaikatvopadeśa-parā. tad atra vijñānātmanaḥ paramātmanaikatvam upadeśyate, nāṅguṣṭha-mātratvaṃ kasyacit.

As Bhattacharya has been saying all along, the Buddhist refutations of the ātman are of the individual ātman (vijñāna-ātman), not of the universal ātman (parama-ātman). This we have also seen in Vasubandhu’s extensive refutation of the ātman, where he refutes the ātman idea of the Pudgalavādin Buddhists, and of the Hindu Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika schools, but not of the Vedāntins. Interestingly, the word that Śaṅkarācārya uses for the individual ātman, following the Upaniṣads, is vijñāna-ātman, the self consisting of individual consciousness. This, of course, is the same word used for the fifth skandha in Buddhism, the vijñāna-skandha, or aggregate of consciousness. The idea that the ever-changing skandhas that make up a person are a permanent ātman is what the Buddha denies again and again. Such a self cannot be eternal, as dualistically opposed to non-eternal. The parama-ātman of Advaita or non-dual Vedānta is said again and again to be beyond duality.

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dzogchungpa
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by dzogchungpa » Wed May 06, 2015 10:49 pm

:popcorn:
There is not only nothingness because there is always, and always can manifest. - Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by daverupa » Wed May 06, 2015 11:10 pm

:cheers:
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

Karma Dondrup Tashi
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by Karma Dondrup Tashi » Wed May 06, 2015 11:34 pm

Matt J wrote:Actually, the Atman is nirguna, so I don't know how you can affirm in the final analysis. Affirmations tend to sublated later.
Karma Dondrup Tashi wrote:Whereas in perception the Hindu atman can be affirmed, in reality nothing can be affirmed or denied.
It's both nirguna and saguna. When it's nirguna it's attributes are denied. In Buddha saddharma there's nothing there to deny in the first place. There is no existence or nonexistence to begin with. It's not like Budda begins with saguna Brahman then evolves into nirguna Brahman.

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Nicholas Weeks
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by Nicholas Weeks » Wed May 06, 2015 11:59 pm

David & other folk,

As I wrote earlier about Bhattacharya's work:
The main weakness I notice, so far, is that the positive arguments against the universal atman-brahman found in Mahayana are not yet mentioned.
But my mind is a blank now when it comes to finding in a Mahayana sutra a refutation of paramatman (not atman); surely there are such?

The Dhammapada has a verse saying something like 'all dhammas are self-less' - dhamma in this case meaning nirvana and I suppose paramatman.
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by Sherlock » Thu May 07, 2015 12:05 am

In Padmasambhava's man ngag lta ba'i phreng ba, he very clearly states that the various Hindu views of an eternal self are part of the mundane views to be refuted.

Yes, fairly late source, but it's a very definite statement, I guess Shantarakshita's book on the various views also would deal with this.

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Nicholas Weeks
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by Nicholas Weeks » Thu May 07, 2015 12:14 am

Sherlock wrote:In Padmasambhava's man ngag lta ba'i phreng ba, he very clearly states that the various Hindu views of an eternal self are part of the mundane views to be refuted.

Yes, fairly late source, but it's a very definite statement, I guess Shantarakshita's book on the various views also would deal with this.
A sutra quote please, not shastra, unless the shastra is quoting a sutra. An 'eternal self'' may still be referring to a person-like self that lives eternally; paramatman (supreme self) is not like that.
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Sherlock
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by Sherlock » Thu May 07, 2015 12:28 am

OK, then what is paramatman? Where is it defined exactly? Are there any sutras that reference the Upanishads and their ideas directly?

I.e. is there even any mention of the idea of a "paramatman" in any sutras?

If not, this argument is a bit like saying the Buddha never said Jesus was not the Messiah. He never mentioned Jesus at all, why would he even negate that he was the messiah?

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dzogchungpa
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by dzogchungpa » Thu May 07, 2015 12:46 am

Sherlock wrote:OK, then what is paramatman? Where is it defined exactly? Are there any sutras that reference the Upanishads and their ideas directly?

I.e. is there even any mention of the idea of a "paramatman" in any sutras?

If not, this argument is a bit like saying the Buddha never said Jesus was not the Messiah. He never mentioned Jesus at all, why would he even negate that he was the messiah?
The word you're more likely to see, from what I understand, is "brahman" and related words. See some of the papers here:
http://prajnaquest.fr/blog/more-on-atma ... ttacharya/

I am not going to comment on the book since I have not read it yet. I will make a few points though:
1. Those papers should be viewed as supplementing the book, i.e. one should not judge his argument based solely on reading those papers.
2. Looking through those papers, it seems to me that only someone who is deeply knowledegable about ancient Indic religious and philosophical literature in the ORIGINAL languages would really be able to vet his argument.
3. A scholar of the stature of Bronkhorst, someone who is in fact qualified to vet his argument, references his book without derision, so that is something to keep in mind.
There is not only nothingness because there is always, and always can manifest. - Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

Sherlock
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by Sherlock » Thu May 07, 2015 12:55 am

OK this is just based on the summary by Nancy Reigle since I don't have the book.

Kamaleswar Bhattacharya’s thesis is that when the Buddha
denied the åtman in the skandhas, he was indirectly affirming the
existence of the authentic, Upanisadic åtman
This is assuming the consquent.

His argument is:

If the Buddha accepts that an ineffable atman exists (A), he would refute the self in the skandhas (B).
He does refute the self in the skandhas. (B)
Therefore the Buddha accepts that ineffable atman exists. (A)

He cites as supporting evidence a few quotes from the Mahayasutramlakara and the Ratnagotravibhaga commentary. But none of these quotes actually affirm anything, nor do they quote from the Upanishads, they just equate paramatman with nairatmya.
he Tathågata [Buddha], on the other hand, by virtue of his
absolute knowledge (yathåbhütaj∆ånena), has gained perfect in-
tuition of the Impersonality [nairåtmya] of all separate elements.
This Impersonality [nairåtmya] accords, from every point of view
(yathå-dar≈anam), with the characteristics of the åtman. It is thus
always regarded as åtman, because it is Impersonality [nairåtmya]
which is åtman (nairåtmyam evåtmeti k®två)
In utterly pure Emptiness, the Buddhas have attained to the
summit of the åtman, which consists in Impersonality [nairåtmya,
non-self]. Since they have found, thus, the pure åtman, they have
reached the heights of åtman.
And, in this Plan Without-Outflowing, is indicated the
paramåtman of the Buddhas—How so?—Because their åtman
consists in the essential Impersonality [nairåtmya, non-self].—
Mahåyåna-Sütrålaµkåra, 9.23, with beginning of commentary.14
In none of these quotes are the terms "eternal", "universal" etc, characteristic of various Hindu theories of the atman used.

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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by Sherlock » Thu May 07, 2015 1:04 am

dzogchungpa wrote:
I am not going to comment on the book since I have not read it yet. I will make a few points though:
1. Those papers should be viewed as supplementing the book, i.e. one should not judge his argument based solely on reading those papers.
2. Looking through those papers, it seems to me that only someone who is deeply knowledegable about ancient Indic religious and philosophical literature in the ORIGINAL languages would really be able to vet his argument.
3. A scholar of the stature of Bronkhorst, someone who is in fact qualified to vet his argument, references his book without derision, so that is something to keep in mind.
I agree with 2, but would add to it the criteria that someone who has deeply studied the commentarial traditions of both Buddhist and Hindu philosophy. In addition to that, witnesses when Buddhist philosophy was still in competition with Hinduism in India itself should be considered (like Padmasambhava or Shantarakshita).

3. does not mean that much. In classical studies there are a lot of books from the late 19th and early 20th century that are still cited because they are very detailed, although a lot of their assumptions are very outdated by now. In Wedemeyer's Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism, he also shows how Bhattacharyya and other Indologists of the period read a lot of their own biases into the histories they were writing.

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dzogchungpa
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by dzogchungpa » Thu May 07, 2015 1:12 am

Sherlock wrote:3. does not mean that much. In classical studies there are a lot of books from the late 19th and early 20th century that are still cited because they are very detailed, although a lot of their assumptions are very outdated by now. In Wedemeyer's Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism, he also shows how Bhattacharyya and other Indologists of the period read a lot of their own biases into the histories they were writing.
You are thinking of a different Bhattacharya. The book in question was published in 1973, and the author died in 2014. As you can see from those papers, he probably continued to consider the question until at least the early 2000s.
There is not only nothingness because there is always, and always can manifest. - Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

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Nicholas Weeks
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by Nicholas Weeks » Thu May 07, 2015 1:25 am

Sherlock wrote:OK, then what is paramatman? Where is it defined exactly? Are there any sutras that reference the Upanishads and their ideas directly?

I.e. is there even any mention of the idea of a "paramatman" in any sutras?
I have been assuming there are, maybe in the prajnaparamita corpus, just have not found any yet. I am also assuming that Bhattacharya is dodging any Mahayana criticisms or refutations of paramatmam. However, if there should be zero such in sutras, that would be strange and strengthen his thesis.

The only mention of paramatman I have seen (via english translations) is in the shastra - Mahayana-sutra-lamkara 9:23 (or 10:23 in the Dharmachakra version). This verse does not appear polemical at all. Robert Thurman adds a footnote:
Buddhänäm paramätmä (LI, p. 39.1). Here we see in unmistakable terms the Upanisadic
formula applied to the buddha, preceding by centuries the Vedantic renaissance led by Sankaräcärya
and his followers, whose philosophical and soteriological debt to the Buddhist experientialists
cannot be appreciated without a thorough knowledge of the Maitreyanätha
corpus and its attendant literature.
Glorious one, creator of all goodness, Mañjuśrī, his glorious eminence!
Manjushri-namasamgiti

Sherlock
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by Sherlock » Thu May 07, 2015 1:29 am

Will wrote: I am also assuming that Bhattacharya is dodging any Mahayana criticisms or refutations of paramatmam. However, if there should be zero such in sutras, that would be strange and strengthen his thesis.

The only mention of paramatman I have seen (via english translations) is in the shastra - Mahayana-sutra-lamkara 9:23 (or 10:23 in the Dharmachakra version). This verse does not appear polemical at all. Robert Thurman adds a footnote:
Buddhänäm paramätmä (LI, p. 39.1). Here we see in unmistakable terms the Upanisadic
formula applied to the buddha, preceding by centuries the Vedantic renaissance led by Sankaräcärya
and his followers, whose philosophical and soteriological debt to the Buddhist experientialists
cannot be appreciated without a thorough knowledge of the Maitreyanätha
corpus and its attendant literature.
Why would it strengthen his thesis? It would weaken it IMO. At least in the summary, he did not show satisfactorily that any sutra or sutta referenced a paramatman as described in the Upanishads, he just assumed that.

Furthermore, can we be sure that the Upanishads are a completely coherent and consistent collection that espoused a common idea of a paramatman? This assumption needs to be demonstrated.

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dzogchungpa
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by dzogchungpa » Thu May 07, 2015 1:36 am

Sherlock wrote:... can we be sure that the Upanishads are a completely coherent and consistent collection ...
Of course that is a valid point, no doubt one Bhattacharya was completely familiar with, and one that applies at least as much to "Buddhadharma", don't you think?
There is not only nothingness because there is always, and always can manifest. - Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

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Nicholas Weeks
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Re: Universal Atman in Buddhism

Post by Nicholas Weeks » Thu May 07, 2015 1:41 am

Sherlock:
Why would it strengthen his thesis? It would weaken it IMO. At least in the summary, he did not show satisfactorily that any sutra or sutta referenced a paramatman as described in the Upanishads, he just assumed that.

Furthermore, can we be sure that the Upanishads are a completely coherent and consistent collection that espoused a common idea of a paramatman? This assumption needs to be demonstrated.
If Bhattacharya ignored refutations of paramatman, then he was 'cherry picking' and has a weak spot; if there are no cherries to pick that he could find, then part of his thesis that Mahayana did not know of, or ignored the Universal or Supreme Atman is stronger.

Yes, I do not know the upanishads well enough to know if they share 'a common idea of a paramatman'.
Glorious one, creator of all goodness, Mañjuśrī, his glorious eminence!
Manjushri-namasamgiti

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