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?
Spiny Norman
Posts: 7399
Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 10:32 am
Location: Andromeda looks nice

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by Spiny Norman »

Sam Vara wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 9:45 am
Dinsdale wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 9:09 am
rolling_boulder wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 3:26 am
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?
It depends which scholars you believe, but my understanding is that Advaita was a later development, at least as a fully-formed system. There may have been some influences from early Mahayana, but I don't think Advaita promotes anatta or sunyata.
Generally I have the impression that early Indian thought was like a big melting pot, and so it's quite difficult to establish who influenced what, when.
Agreed. There is this earlier thread:

viewtopic.php?t=34602

It's very difficult to make sense of an area with lots of vague concepts and where people want to prove their relevance. And there was a very interesting thread recently where someone raised the point that there doesn't seem to be anywhere in the Pali canon where the doctrine of atta is clearly stated. To me, it's all a bit of a swamp, although there are doubtless some scholars who have got it all cut and dried.
I very much doubt there is a definitive answer out there. Just a lot of "experts" with different interpretations of the history. Some of them with an axe to grind. :soap:
Buddha save me from new-agers!

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 »

Sam Vara wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 8:35 am
The Buddha may of course have known about the Upanishads without agreeing with them or even mentioning them such that they are recorded in the suttas. Gombrich, for example, in What the Buddha Thought, claims that an understanding of the Dhamma is enhanced by understanding the historical and intellectual context in which the Buddha was speaking. The Buddha used the concepts available to him in order to explain to worldlings what they would otherwise have lacked the concepts to grasp, even though he alone was in possession of the truth.
I recall i started a topic you participated in about how little, if any, debate occurs in the suttas between the Buddha & Brahmins about the Atman. Yet most scholars declare the Eternal Atman was a developed salient doctrine before the Buddha.

For example, I just responded on another forum to the ideas of Leigh Brasington below, who said:
Brasington wrote:1. The bark cloth clothing would most likely mean that Bahiya was a follower of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad makes a big deal about trees (personal communication from John Peacock).

2. Why did the Buddha give this particular instruction to Bahiya? The bark cloth clothing marked him as a serious student of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad; thus he would be familiar with the teaching found there: "The unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unthought thinker, the uncognized cognizer... There is no other seer but he, no other hearer, no other thinker, no other cognizer. This is thy self, the inner controller, the immortal...." Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 3.7.23.

Bahiya would also be familiar with "... that imperishable is the unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unthought thinker, the ununderstood understander. Other than it there is naught that sees. Other than it there is naught that hears. Other than it there is naught that thinks. Other than it there is naught that understands...." Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 3.8.11.

The Buddha, as he often does, takes something his questioner is familiar with and gives it a subtle but profound twist: there's no Atman, there's just seeing, just hearing, etc.

http://www.leighb.com/ud1_10.htm
While i have zero knowledge of the Upanishads, my reply was:
Doot wrote:The terms "diṭṭhaṃ sutaṃ mutaṃ viññātaṃ" (seen, heard, sensed & cognised) are found in at least 45 Pali suttas. Also, contrary to common beliefs about a pre-Buddhist Atman, there is actually little, if no, debate with Brahmins in the Pali suttas about an "Eternal Atman". When the Buddha used the term "atta" ("self"), he used it to refer to "ego", "identity" or "possessiveness". Wiki says: "The chronology of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, like other Upanishads, is uncertain and contested". It appears more logical to me the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad took the terms "diṭṭhaṃ sutaṃ mutaṃ viññātaṃ" (in Sanskrit draṣṭā, śrotā, mantā & vijñātā) from Buddhism and used these term to create a doctrine of god or Atman to debunk/attack Buddhism. It appears illogical to move from psychology to theology, i.e., that the Upanishad writers would cognise the human senses but then create a theory of god or Atman from the human senses. Generally, the history of religion is one of theology. Therefore, as said, it appears logical the Brahmins believed in a tribal self-affirming god (Brahma), as they did in the Pali suttas (similar to the Hebrews in the Bible) but, when atheist Buddha arose with his psychology, the Brahmins took that Buddhist psychology and transformed it into a theology, as the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad appears to do. I think it will be found the history of the later Hinduism is one of attacking and subverting Buddhism rather than the Buddha subverted Brahminism. The Pali suttas literally say (possibly MN 95) the Buddha intended no harm to the lineage of Brahmins.
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

User avatar
Sam Vara
Posts: 6666
Joined: Sun Jun 05, 2011 5:42 pm
Location: Sussex, U.K.

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by Sam Vara »

DooDoot wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 11:16 am
Sam Vara wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 8:35 am
The Buddha may of course have known about the Upanishads without agreeing with them or even mentioning them such that they are recorded in the suttas. Gombrich, for example, in What the Buddha Thought, claims that an understanding of the Dhamma is enhanced by understanding the historical and intellectual context in which the Buddha was speaking. The Buddha used the concepts available to him in order to explain to worldlings what they would otherwise have lacked the concepts to grasp, even though he alone was in possession of the truth.
I recall i started a topic you participated in about how little, if any, debate occurs in the suttas between the Buddha & Brahmins about the Atman. Yet most scholars declare the Eternal Atman was a developed salient doctrine before the Buddha.
Yes, I've just referred to that in another thread parallel to this! I thought it was an excellent topic, in that nearly every commentator and expositor - including Gombrich, who bases half a book on it - seems to assert it rather than instantiate it. There seems to be nothing readily available, and you are quite right on this particular topic.

With other concepts, though, the point is made that the Buddha takes brahminical concepts and gives them a new meaning, or else a new inflection. For example, "brahmin" is no longer one born to a role, but one who does the right things; kamma stops being ritual action, and becomes intention; the sacred fires tended by the brahmin as part of religious duties become defilements; and so on.

Whether or not the above is based on sound scholarship, my point is that the Buddha being aware of brahminical practices and doctrine does not detract from the uniqueness of his enlightenment. He was, I believe, rightly self-enlightened, but needed to use the language of unenlightened folk like the brahmins.

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 »

Sam Vara wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 12:02 pm
With other concepts, though, the point is made that the Buddha takes brahminical concepts and gives them a new meaning, or else a new inflection. For example, "brahmin" is no longer one born to a role, but one who does the right things; kamma stops being ritual action, and becomes intention; the sacred fires tended by the brahmin as part of religious duties become defilements; and so on.
Sure. It appears the above did not "subvert" Brahmanism but "improved" it (at least spiritually).
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 »

Dinsdale wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 10:47 am
[

In Buddhist terms this would be equivalent to saying that there is an Atman "beneath" the five aggregates, which doesn't appear to be what the Buddha taught - unless you argue that Nibbana is some sort of "true self". :shrug:
The thing that really gets me about all these doctrinal issues at this level is that it seems to be such an arbitrary semantic distinction. if the five aggregates are not self and the Buddha agrees with the upanishads on that, why does it have to be such a drama whether or not the underlying awareness is self or not? After all if attachment to the five aggregates is severed, and that's nibbana, then what more is there to do and why does it matter if nibbana is a self or whatever you want to call it? Or if this nibbana-as-awareness is not self, what's the difference if you regard it thus.

This I suppose we can contrast with the orthodox commentarial view that the various consciousnesses arise independently and not within an experiencer or whatever? Which certainky seems more distinct from the upanishadic view.
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.

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 »

.
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.

Spiny Norman
Posts: 7399
Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 10:32 am
Location: Andromeda looks nice

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by Spiny Norman »

rolling_boulder wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 12:23 pm
Dinsdale wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 10:47 am
[

In Buddhist terms this would be equivalent to saying that there is an Atman "beneath" the five aggregates, which doesn't appear to be what the Buddha taught - unless you argue that Nibbana is some sort of "true self". :shrug:
The thing that really gets me about all these doctrinal issues at this level is that it seems to be such an arbitrary semantic distinction. if the five aggregates are not self and the Buddha agrees with the upanishads on that, why does it have to be such a drama whether or not the underlying awareness is self or not? After all if attachment to the five aggregates is severed, and that's nibbana, then what more is there to do and why does it matter if nibbana is a self or whatever you want to call it? Or if this nibbana-as-awareness is not self, what's the difference if you regard it thus.

This I suppose we can contrast with the orthodox commentarial view that the various consciousnesses arise independently and not within an experiencer or whatever? Which certainky seems more distinct from the upanishadic view.
Sure. I think it's a lot to do with the different assumptions which are made, for example about the nature of consciousness (suttas v. Upanishads).
And in terms of practice, whether one is looking for an absence, or a presence (anatta v. Atman).
Buddha save me from new-agers!

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 »

Ok, but we are looking for what the Buddha was actually trying to tell us!
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
Ceisiwr
Posts: 7278
Joined: Sun Jan 11, 2009 2:36 am

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by Ceisiwr »

rolling_boulder wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 3:26 am
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?

Buddha’s anatta doctrine is used to let go of everything. Advaita’s anatta like doctrine is used to find something.
“For that is false, bhikkhu, which has a deceptive nature, and that is true which has an undeceptive nature—Nibbāna. Therefore a bhikkhu possessing this truth possesses the supreme foundation of truth. For this, bhikkhu, is the supreme noble truth, namely, Nibbāna, which has an undeceptive nature.” MN 140

Spiny Norman
Posts: 7399
Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 10:32 am
Location: Andromeda looks nice

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by Spiny Norman »

rolling_boulder wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 2:16 pm
Ok, but we are looking for what the Buddha was actually trying to tell us!
I think the basic message is to stop grasping the aggregates. And therefore to be free.
Last edited by Spiny Norman on Sat Feb 22, 2020 5:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Buddha save me from new-agers!

User avatar
cappuccino
Posts: 4223
Joined: Thu Feb 11, 2016 1:45 am

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by cappuccino »

rolling_boulder wrote: Ok, but we are looking for what the Buddha was actually trying to tell us!
you'll find it in the scriptures

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 »

Ceisiwr wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 2:57 pm
Buddha’s anatta doctrine is used to let go of everything. Advaita’s anatta like doctrine is used to find something.
That sounds like a nice summary.

And the Buddhist view would be that the Adviaita approach does not, therefore, lead to full liberation, though from the point of view of one with not much liberation at all, I imagine that it would be rather profound...

And, as has been pointed out, some later Buddhist developments (such as the 20th C Thai Forest) seem to have an element of finding (the "mind that knows").

:heart:
Mike

User avatar
cappuccino
Posts: 4223
Joined: Thu Feb 11, 2016 1:45 am

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by cappuccino »

Advaita leads to The Immaterial World (arupa-loka)

The Thirty-one Planes of Existence

User avatar
markandeya
Posts: 455
Joined: Sat Jun 30, 2018 11:33 am

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by markandeya »

These division are created by intellectuals maintained by intellectuals and belong to intellectuals which have caused unnecessary divisions

Buddha awakens the mind it’s not a historical person who discovered something unique

Advaita is a scholarly technical term use to mean a non dual state non dual state meaning that all forms of duplicity in the mind have been dissolved the main one being considering oneself as inherently different to others

Some of the comments are very funny not that I needed good laugh but I certainly got one


Give it up it’s a waste of time enforcing and discussing illusory concepts

SteRo
Posts: 1831
Joined: Fri Oct 11, 2019 10:27 am

Re: Does the advaita conception of anatta precede Buddhism?

Post by SteRo »

rolling_boulder wrote:
Sat Feb 22, 2020 3:26 am
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.
That's certainly not the case because saying "this is not self" and "that is not self" (buddhism) is quite different from saying "all is self" and "self is all" as e.g. Advaita does.

Post Reply