Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
Post Reply
rolling_boulder
Posts: 290
Joined: Tue Oct 15, 2013 4:01 am

Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by rolling_boulder »

Hey. I was talking to a practitioner of the Advaita vedanta school. He was telling me quite insistently that Anatta was understood in the non duality school before Buddhism ever came about.

If so, this pokes a big hole in Buddhist worldview. It's quite essential to us that this teaching is unique to Buddhas and novel in the world. But I'm skeptical..

I have also heard that hindu schools have been fond of coopting Buddhist teachings in order to retain legitimacy in the face of superior Buddhist doctrine.

Anyone with historical chops know anything about this?
The world is swept away. It does not endure...
The world is without shelter, without protector...
The world is without ownership. One has to pass on, leaving everything behind...
The world is insufficient, insatiable, a slave to craving.

User avatar
mikenz66
Posts: 17620
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: Aotearoa, New Zealand

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by mikenz66 »

Hi Rolling_Boulder,

I don't have expert knowledge but over here:
https://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/th ... ta/14998/2
https://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/th ... /14998/183
I mentioned Patrick Kearney's talks on not-self.
http://www.dharmasalon.net/Audio/audio.html

Here's my cartoon summary around this particular issue, extracted from the second link above:
... As Bhante Sujato says, the various ideas at the time, such as what eventually became Advaita Vedanta, was about liberation through one’s “true self”. Patrick comments that the Advaita Vedanta founders would actually have agreed with the Buddha that a self could not be found in the aggregates, for the same reasons as in the first part of the discourse [https://suttacentral.net/sn22.59/en/sujato]. However, they used an argument analogous to “the eye cannot see the eye, but that doesn’t mean that they eye does not exist” to reason that there must be this “true self” in the background somewhere, and for them the practice would be to contemplate that “true self”, Atman, which they equated with Brahman.

I guess you can see the echos of those ideas in the way some Zen teachers I’ve come across talk about “finding your true self”, and some how some of the Thai Forest Ajahns seem (it’s hard for me to tell…) to be suggesting that there is a “knowing” that is outside of the aggregates, and can be identified with “the deathless”.
There are then some useful comments from people more familiar with the Upanishads than I am...

So, my not-very-informed understanding is that the idea of the aggregates not being a self may well have preceded the Buddha, but those making that argument did have a "true self" in mind outside of the aggregates.

:heart:
Mike

sentinel
Posts: 2979
Joined: Sun Jun 04, 2017 1:26 pm

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by sentinel »

Nibbana or Atman
Quality is not an act, it is a habit.

rolling_boulder
Posts: 290
Joined: Tue Oct 15, 2013 4:01 am

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by rolling_boulder »

mikenz66 wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 3:44 am
So, my not-very-informed understanding is that the idea of the aggregates not being a self may well have preceded the Buddha, but those making that argument did have a "true self" in mind outside of the aggregates.
Interesting, so if you ascribe to "knowing mind = nibbana" idea, then because that idea is not newly introduced in Buddha Dhamma, you refute the notion that Buddha's Enlightenment was anything particularly special, and then there is no reason to be a Buddhist really. Perhaps this is why I have always felt a particularly deep skepticism about this style of teachings and had second thoughts about ordination in the Thai forest lineage.

Cheers
The world is swept away. It does not endure...
The world is without shelter, without protector...
The world is without ownership. One has to pass on, leaving everything behind...
The world is insufficient, insatiable, a slave to craving.

User avatar
mikenz66
Posts: 17620
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: Aotearoa, New Zealand

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by mikenz66 »

rolling_boulder wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 4:15 am
Interesting, so if you ascribe to "knowing mind = nibbana" idea, then because that idea is not newly introduced in Buddha Dhamma, you refute the notion that Buddha's Enlightenment was anything particularly special ...
Well, the Advaita idea seems to be that the knowing mind is the "true self" = atman = Brahmin, or, at least, the gateway to Brahman, so that's probably not considered correct from Buddhist point of view (certainly not by the Theravada commentaries). But this is as far as my knowledge stretches:
Wikipedia wrote:The term Advaita refers to its idea that the true self, Atman, is the same as the highest metaphysical reality of universe, Brahman.
:heart:
Mike

User avatar
DooDoot
Posts: 7890
Joined: Tue Aug 08, 2017 11:06 pm

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by DooDoot »

rolling_boulder wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 3:26 am
Anyone with historical chops know anything about this?
My impression is Advaita Vedanta & Hinduism arose after Buddhism. Before Buddhism, the Pali suttas only mention the predominant Indian religion was the 'Brahmanism' of the Four Vedas.
Advaita Vedanta traces its roots to the oldest Upanishads. It relies on three textual sources called the Prasthanatrayi. It gives "a unifying interpretation of the whole body of Upanishads", the Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita.
Upanishads are never mentioned in the Pali suttas and the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita are clearly post-Buddhism.
More than 200 Upanishads are known, of which the first dozen or so are the oldest and most important and are referred to as the principal or main (mukhya) Upanishads. The mukhya Upanishads are found mostly in the concluding part of the Brahmanas and Aranyakas and were, for centuries, memorized by each generation and passed down orally. The early Upanishads all predate the Common Era, five of them are in all likelihood pre-Buddhist (6th century BCE),] stretching down to the Maurya period, which lasted from 322 to 185 BCE. Of the remainder, 95 Upanishads are part of the Muktika canon, composed from about the last centuries of 1st-millennium BCE through about 15th-century CE. New Upanishads, beyond the 108 in the Muktika canon, continued to be composed through the early modern and modern era, though often dealing with subjects that are unconnected to the Vedas.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upanishads
Personally, I would dispute any Upanishads are pre-Buddhist or, otherwise, influenced Buddhism. I recall browsing some early Upanishads and found them to be very superficial.
Last edited by DooDoot on Sat Feb 22, 2020 4:45 am, edited 4 times in total.
There is always an official executioner. If you try to take his place, It is like trying to be a master carpenter and cutting wood. If you try to cut wood like a master carpenter, you will only hurt your hand.

https://soundcloud.com/doodoot/paticcasamuppada
https://soundcloud.com/doodoot/anapanasati

rolling_boulder
Posts: 290
Joined: Tue Oct 15, 2013 4:01 am

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by rolling_boulder »

mikenz66 wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 4:34 am
Well, the Advaita idea seems to be that the knowing mind is the "true self" = atman = Brahmin, or, at least, the gateway to Brahman, so that's probably not considered correct from Buddhist point of view (certainly not by the Theravada commentaries).
Hard to say. I was personally at a talk where LP Sumedho told us that "the knowing mind is your true self."

Who knows though, really, it's a mess to try to think about.

And we're dealing with a lot of semantics there.
The world is swept away. It does not endure...
The world is without shelter, without protector...
The world is without ownership. One has to pass on, leaving everything behind...
The world is insufficient, insatiable, a slave to craving.

User avatar
mikenz66
Posts: 17620
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: Aotearoa, New Zealand

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by mikenz66 »

Well, the Thai Forest Ajahns do have their own interpretations....

As for the Upanishads, the early ones are said to predate the Buddha
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upanishads

rolling_boulder
Posts: 290
Joined: Tue Oct 15, 2013 4:01 am

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by rolling_boulder »

mikenz66 wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 4:59 am
Well, the Thai Forest Ajahns do have their own interpretations....
Can you elaborate? I'm very interested to know what you mean by that.
The world is swept away. It does not endure...
The world is without shelter, without protector...
The world is without ownership. One has to pass on, leaving everything behind...
The world is insufficient, insatiable, a slave to craving.

User avatar
mikenz66
Posts: 17620
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: Aotearoa, New Zealand

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by mikenz66 »

rolling_boulder wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 5:08 am
mikenz66 wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 4:59 am
Well, the Thai Forest Ajahns do have their own interpretations....
Can you elaborate? I'm very interested to know what you mean by that.
Here are a few old threads on the subject:
viewtopic.php?f=13&t=6351&start=0#p100366
viewtopic.php?t=22741&start=60#p329417

:heart:
Mike

SarathW
Posts: 13924
Joined: Mon Sep 10, 2012 2:49 am

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by SarathW »

rolling_boulder wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 5:08 am
mikenz66 wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 4:59 am
Well, the Thai Forest Ajahns do have their own interpretations....
Can you elaborate? I'm very interested to know what you mean by that.
Monks in Dhammayutta Nikaya such as Ven. Thanissaro believes in a surviving self after Parinibbana or Parinibbana as an objective reality.
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

rolling_boulder
Posts: 290
Joined: Tue Oct 15, 2013 4:01 am

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by rolling_boulder »

SarathW wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 5:22 am
Monks in Dhammayutta Nikaya such as Ven. Thanissaro believes in a surviving self after Parinibbana or Parinibbana as an objective reality.
As opposed to what, sarath?
The world is swept away. It does not endure...
The world is without shelter, without protector...
The world is without ownership. One has to pass on, leaving everything behind...
The world is insufficient, insatiable, a slave to craving.

User avatar
DooDoot
Posts: 7890
Joined: Tue Aug 08, 2017 11:06 pm

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by DooDoot »

mikenz66 wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 4:59 am
As for the Upanishads, the early ones are said to predate the Buddha
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upanishads
Not according to the suttas, where they are not mentioned. If they predated the Buddha, the Buddha never heard of them or was influenced by them. To argue the opposite means ceasing to be a Buddhist; similar to how a bhikkhu is immediately defeated when engaged in sexual intercourse.

"A Buddha" cannot be taught his liberation dhamma by another; otherwise they are not a Buddha. The Buddha said his core teachings he "never heard before".
Last edited by DooDoot on Sat Feb 22, 2020 5:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
There is always an official executioner. If you try to take his place, It is like trying to be a master carpenter and cutting wood. If you try to cut wood like a master carpenter, you will only hurt your hand.

https://soundcloud.com/doodoot/paticcasamuppada
https://soundcloud.com/doodoot/anapanasati

SarathW
Posts: 13924
Joined: Mon Sep 10, 2012 2:49 am

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by SarathW »

rolling_boulder wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 5:29 am
SarathW wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 5:22 am
Monks in Dhammayutta Nikaya such as Ven. Thanissaro believes in a surviving self after Parinibbana or Parinibbana as an objective reality.
As opposed to what, sarath?
Theravada does not believe Parinibbana as an objective reality.
There were many discussions in this forum about this issue.
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

User avatar
mikenz66
Posts: 17620
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: Aotearoa, New Zealand

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by mikenz66 »

For anyone interested in Patrick Kearney's comments, he has a series of three talks here:
http://www.dharmasalon.net/Audio/audio.html
The Not-Self Series
3 March 2019: The not-self characteristic (Part 1)
10 March 2019: The not-self characteristic (Part 2)
24 March 2019: The not-self characteristic (Part 3) - Not-self and life-after-life

The mention of starts at about 4:00 minutes into the second talk, where he discusses Yajnavalkya: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yajnavalkya and his ideas about self.

:heart:
Mike

Post Reply