My Views on the Debate between Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and Javed Akhtar : ‘Faith, Reason and Inner Engineering’

I am republishing the Quora answer that I wrote. You can read my answer in Quora here.

 

First of all, I see a small problem in the crux of the whole debate. The debate is titled Faith, Reason and Inner Engineering’. Also, moderator Shoma Chaudhury when introducing and concluding the debate makes it clear that the debate is about faith and reason. She also seem to understand Sadhguru as a man of faith and Javed Akhtar as a man of reason. (You can hear Sadhguru’s voice in the background correcting her statement when she concluded the debate)

But actually, by going by their own words, both Sadhguru and Javed Akhtar are men of reason and are against faith. Both are in agreement towards how belief implies not accepting that one doesn’t know. Then what are they really debating about?

The debate would make more sense when it is about whether spirituality is necessary or not. I think that is how this debate should have been titled and introduced. Because, that is exactly where Javed disagrees with Sadhguru. There is no doubt that Javed Akhtar is an intelligent man and a great lyricist. But he doesn’t seem to agree with the fact that there is a way to get liberated from human suffering.

Javed Akhtar’s views on spirituality

Here is what Javed Akhtar said about spirituality in another talk:

Plato in his dialogues has said many a wise thing, and one of them is – before starting any discussion decide on the meanings of words. Let us try to decide on the meaning of this word spirituality. Does it mean love for mankind that transcends all religion, caste, creed, race? Is that so? Then I have no problem. Except that I call it humanity. Does it mean love of plants, trees, mountains, oceans, rivers, animals? The non-human world? If that is so, again I have no problem at all. Except that I call it environmental consciousness. Does spirituality mean heartfelt regard for social institutions like marriage, parenthood, fine arts, judiciary, freedom of expression. I have no problem again sir, how can I disagree here? I call it civil responsibility. Does spirituality mean going into your own world trying to understand the meaning of your own life? Who can object on that? I call it self-introspection, self assessment. Does spirituality mean Yoga? Thanks to Patanjali, who has given us the details of Yoga, Yam, Yatam, aasan, pranayam…We may do it under any name, but if we are doing pranayam, wonderful. I call it healthcare. Physical fitness.

Now is it a matter of only semantics. If all this is spirituality, then what is the discussion. All these words that I have used are extremely respectable and totally acceptable words. There is nothing abstract or intangible about them. So why stick to this word spirituality? What is there in spirituality that has not been covered by all these words? Is there something? If that is so then what is that?

Somebody in return can ask me what is my problem with this word. I am asking to change it, leave it, drop it, make it obsolete but why so? I will tell you what is my reservation. If spirituality means all this then there is no discussion. But there is something else which makes me uneasy. In a dictionary, the meaning of spirituality is rooted in a word called “spirit”. When mankind didn’t know whether this earth is round or flat, he had decided that human beings are actually the combination of two things. Body and spirit. Body is temporary, it dies. But the spirit is, shall I say, non-biodegradable. In your body you have a liver and heart and intestines and the brain, but since the brain is a part of the body, and mind lies within the brain, it is inferior because ultimately the brain too shall die with the body, but don’t worry, you are not going to die, because you are your spirit, and the spirit has the supreme consciousness that will remain, and whatever problem you have is because you listen to your mind. Stop listening to your mind. Listen to your spirit – the supreme consciousness that knows the cosmic truth. All right. It’s not surprising that in Pune there is an ashram and I used to go there. I loved the oratory. On the gate of the lecture hall there was a placard. Leave your shoes and minds here. There are other gurus who don’t mind if you carry your shoes. But minds?…sorry.

Now, let me address something very important before I talk more about the debate that happened. I have seen a lot of comments in that Youtube video (Faith, Reason and Inner Engineering) attacking Javed Akhtar and labeling him idiot and stupid. First of all, just because someone doesn’t understand what spirituality is, it doesn’t mean that he is idiot or stupid. There are too many factors into play, which makes a person to get frustrated with running on a hedonic treadmill and search for a way to get liberated.

A lot of Jaggi Vasudev’s own followers don’t understand what spirituality is. Before Osho died, he has said that only a very few people understood his message. I read somewhere that J.Krishnamurti said something like ‘Where did I go wrong, why didn’t these people understand me’.. Many people who think themselves as seekers actually start the journey with a curiosity or sometimes even with blind faith.Many people think that being religious is being spiritual. And all these people are not idiots..

A lot of you may have trouble explaining such things to your mom, dad, sister and friends.. Would you call all of them as stupids? If you consider for a moment that Javed Akhtar is also someone like your dad or granddad, you will not indulge in personally attacking him while sitting in your arm chair.

What is Spirituality?

When you talk to the skeptics, it is very important to not to talk about things which sound like woo woo or which are ambiguous. So, let me talk about what authentic gurus actually mean when they use the word spirituality. We can take two very popular words in our tradition to inquire into its actual meaning. One is ‘moksha’ which means ‘liberation’; the other is ‘nirvana’ which means ‘extinction’. Before I explain what exactly we mean by that, let me explain another concept.

Human beings are always running on hedonic treadmill. What is it?

Hedonic adaptation is a process or mechanism that reduces the affective impact of emotional events. Generally, hedonic adaptation involves a happiness “set point”, whereby humans generally maintain a constant level of happiness throughout their lives, despite events that occur in their environment. The process of hedonic adaptation is often conceptualized as a treadmill, since one must continually work to maintain a certain level of happiness.

For most of the people, living our lives is like running on a treadmill. You think you will be happy after getting a job. You feel happy for a while but then you run for something else.. You may think marrying the love of your life will make you happy. But the excitement of your marriage fades away and now you want to buy a car. Then you want to buy a house.. But you never get the ultimate satisfaction that you are aiming for. It is like a fire that is burning continuously; the extinction of this fire is nirvana. It is a prison that keeps you trapped. The liberation from this prison is moksha.

Why Javed Akhtar is not open to the idea that such a liberation is possible?

From this debate and from other talks of Javed Akhtar, I have understood one thing. He might have seen a lot of fake gurus. He might have noticed a lot of cultish behavior from their followers too. Sadhguru also mentioned in the video that just because one has seen some bad apples, that doesn’t mean all apples are bad.

But we also have to understand a reality. Most of the people today who are posing as Gurus are frauds or somehow fooling themselves that they are enlightened. Some of them may be intelligent , have good intentions and might have even had some spiritual experiences. But they might have taken up a guru role before the actual liberation has happened. Though there is no foolproof way to find out if someone is enlightened, there are lot of indications that show that someone is not, which will be obvious especially for people who are more advanced in the path. After seeing the way such gurus are, it is not surprising to me that Javed is not open to the fact that there is actually a way to get liberated and that it is quite possible.

Because of this hardwired concept he has about gurus in general, I don’t think he will be ever open to something that comes from anyone who is called as a guru. And a debate is certainly not a situation where such a thing can happen. He may be more open to someone like J.Krishnamurthi. Or a better option would be to gift him the book ‘Waking up – Spirituality without religion’ written by Sam Harris. 🙂 I have read testimonies by some people who said that they were skeptical about the truth of spiritual enlightenment but they became seekers after reading this book.

Some comments about the debate and the points discussed:

  1. I appreciate Javed for determining or mutually agreeing with the meaning of the words in the beginning. Because, this is very important since a lot of debates are semantic and happen because of each person using a word to mean something different from what the other person uses. A lot of confusion happens because of confusions in the terminology. So, it is important for both the parties to come to an agreement on what the words actually mean.
  2. Sadhguru says philosophy is just a fantastic explanation of aspects of life which can never be explained. He also says that he doesn’t have any philosophy. Thanks to him for mentioning what he means by the word philosophy. This is again an example of point 1, because he uses the word ‘philosophy’ the same way Osho used it. But coming up such fantastic explanation of aspects of life is only one aspect of Philosophy. Epistemology, a subject that deals with how knowledge should be acquired is philosophy. Scientific method that science uses is actually a philosophy. Logic is also a part of philosophy.
  3. Sadhguru says that there were no teachings in this country but only methods. And he says that there were no believers in this country but only seekers. This may sound good to hear but it is not true. There have been countless teachings, philosophies and even a lot of absurd ethics in this country. There has been contradictory metaphysical theories in each school. What is Manusmriti? It is not only a book of teachings but it had the most cruel ideas about the caste system. The whole vedanta and mimamsa schools are based on the belief that Vedas and Upanishads are eternal , infallible and revealed through divine revelation. I have talked more about it here: Shanmugam P’s answer to Which philosophy personally appeals more to you, Buddha’s Pratityasamutpada or Advaita Vedanta? . Also, there has been countless wars based on the beliefs. For example, wars between Shaivites and Vaishnavites, murders of countless jain monks by the believers of Shiva etc. I am mentioning this because many people who follow Sadhguru are so blind and they never accept that Sadhguru can also be wrong.
  4. After a few minutes have passed, you will notice personal attacks from both sides. But do you see who started it? After Javed talked about agreeing on terminology, Sadhguru ridiculed him for no reason and commented about his intelligence. There is no reason to do that. It doesn’t look good for a man like Sadhguru.
  5. Moderator asked a question to Sadhguru regarding the followers who engage in wars and ready to kill. She is actually talking about many people creating a ‘cult of personality’. I feel Sadhguru should have addressed this issue because this is actually becoming very ugly now. You can witness this in the comments of that youtube video itself. I have talked more about this here: Shanmugam P’s answer to What advice would you like to give to the followers of Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev?
  6. She also asked regarding charging money for the courses and if such courses are available for poor people. I don’t have any issue in charging money for the courses because it is difficult to conduct courses like this without money, especially in metro areas. But Sadhguru also mentioned that such courses are conducted in rural areas for free. I have been hearing this quite a lot, but has anyone questioned how true it is? How many such free programs are conducted on a regular basis and how many villages are covered? How often do they happen? Sadhguru himself says that if one wants to attend such courses for free he has to go to a village. But which village and when? No such information is available in the course schedule of the Isha website. I once sent an email inquiring the details but got no response. Once you make a commitment to provide free courses for poor people, there should be someway for those poor people to find out about those courses. Don’t you agree?
  7. In the middle of the debate, you will hear Javed saying the most anti-spiritual statement which is ‘you are your mind’.. 🙂 You can’t really convince him anymore in a debate. 🙂 But anyway, I think the way Buddha approached this issue might have worked in this scenario. Buddha didn’t say ‘You are not the mind, you are not the body’. He said, “There is no ‘you’ in the mind and there is no ‘you’ in the body. Buddha’s approach was empirical and he put it in a different way. And scientists and Buddha are in agreement here. He said:

“Bhikkhus, feeling is not-self…

“Bhikkhus, perception is not-self…

“Bhikkhus, determinations are not-self…

But he never said what is actually ‘You’.. He left that to people to find out. He was silent when people asked him metaphysical questions. He won’’t answer if anyone asks ‘What is the source of existence, why am i here”

There is a beautiful parable called ‘Parable of the poisoned arrow’ which is about what Buddha said when someone asked metaphysical questions:

It’s just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me… until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short… until I know whether he was dark, ruddy-brown, or golden-colored… until I know his home village, town, or city… until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a long bow or a crossbow… until I know whether the bowstring with which I was wounded was fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark… until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was wild or cultivated… until I know whether the feathers of the shaft with which I was wounded were those of a vulture, a stork, a hawk, a peacock, or another bird… until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was bound with the sinew of an ox, a water buffalo, a langur, or a monkey.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.’ The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him

Buddha was not interested in mystic musings. He was only interested in showing people the way to liberation. It is because of the empirical approach taken by Buddha, a lot of psychologists are interested in Buddhism more than any other tradition.

Anyway, overall the debate was very entertaining and fun to watch. Javed’s posture and reaction was very funny. He seemed to be restless too. Needless to say, Sadhguru made many insightful points in the debate.

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What Advice would you like to give to the Followers of Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev?

(I am republishing the answer that I wrote in Quora)

Disclaimer:

  1. I don’t really like to advise. So what I am going to write here is just to make certain people think about what they are doing.
  2. This is only addressed to the ‘followers’, especially those who blindly follow him and show the kind of behavior which is quite incompatible to being spiritual. This answer is not addressed to the true spiritual seekers, who are earnestly seeking liberation as the only priority and doing the Sadhana and methods given by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev.

Ok, here we go…

  1. Don’t judge others

Sadhguru usually tells a joke about a typical tea master in a teashop. The tea master talks about how Sachin Tendulkar should have played in a match and what decision the prime minister should have taken. He criticizes all the celebrities, judges them and says what they should have done. So, he sounds as if he knows more about how to play cricket and how to rule a country. But he doesn’t know how to make a good tea. 🙂

But these followers don’t realize that they are doing exactly what that tea master does. They indulge in discussions to judge who is stupid, who is spiritual and who is ignorant. They have a huge spiritual ego and just because they now know certain things that they didn’t know before and do certain things that they didn’t do before (like kriyas), they unconsciously develop an attitude that makes them to think that other people are somehow inferior. Their two favorite words are ‘stupid’ and ‘idiot’.

There is a famous video in Youtube that shows a debate between Sadhguru and Javed Akter. If you see the comments of that video, you will know what I am talking about. After reading those comments, I really can’t stop myself from leaving the following comment:

I see a lot of judgmental comments here, commenting on the intellect of Javed Aktar.. Why are you all people judging another person and calling him stupid? Who gave you the right to judge? Did Sadhguru ask everyone of you to go out and judge every person and find out who is spiritual, who is stupid and who is intelligent?

If someone thinks that he doesn’t need spirituality, he is entitled to have that opinion. If he says he is quite happy with his life and doesn’t need spirituality, let him be.

To most of the people who are commenting here saying that he is stupid, idiot and ignorant, let me ask you this question: Were you all born with some great spiritual wisdom the day you came out of the womb? Your life situations might have brought you to spiritual seeking for some reason. But it doesn’t happen to everyone simply because whatever happened in their life didn’t prompt them to seek any further.. That doesn’t mean that they are idiots or they are in anyway inferior to you…

You all have such judgmental thoughts about another person and you still think that you are spiritual? Don’t ever think that you are in anyway superior to another person just because you think you are a seeker now and that you have been meditating for a while.. There is no room for the concepts of superiority and inferiority in the realm of spirituality. You don’t have any business to comment or judge another person… Minding your own business is all about being in a spiritual path, because enlightenment is all about YOU AND YOU ONLY…

2. Don’t become a Guru yet

Another thing that you will notice from these people is that, you can get a lot of spiritual advice from these people, way more than what you can get from Sadhguru himself. They will sound as if they know even more than Sadhguru. They think they can now interpret and explain what Sadhguru says. They think they can explain to people why Sadhguru says certain things and clarify their doubts. They now think that they know more about enlightenment.

After taking just a few steps into a dense and wide forest, if you think you know the entire forest, thats really funny. But when people talk about the forest without taking a single step in, that is a big joke.

3. Don’t become a victim of ‘SIWOTI’ syndrome

Have you heard of SIWOTI’ syndrome? It is a real psychological problem that many people have. The full form is ‘Someone is wrong on the Internet’. You can witness this syndrome in many of the blind followers of Sadhguru.

According the the Rational Wiki, here is the definition for it:

SIWOTI syndrome is a strange psychological affliction affecting many Internet users – more likely an immune response than something viral.

The abbreviation comes from “Someone is wrong on the Internet“, a phrase used in #386 (“Duty Calls”). The syndrome manifests in persistent attempts at convincing people who are (definitely and indisputably) wrong that they are wrong. It is suspected that, analogous to the role of toxoplasmosis

In human aggression, the syndrome is the underlying reason for the existence of Internet flame wars, of the organized skeptical movement and of this very wiki.

I am reminded of a guy, whose name is S.P (name shortened to initials). He asked a question in Quora about the atheist’s opinion of what Sadhguru says about God. Then, he requested answers from many well known atheists on Quora. Once they gave their answers, he started an internet war with those people, trying to prove them wrong. Why??? First of all, he didn’t properly understand what Sadhguru says. He pretended he understood and started fighting with others. Sadhguru’s main intention was to make people understand that they should not pretend to know or believe in things that they really don’t know. But Sadhguru obviously didn’t ask anyone to preach this to people and try to correct everyone in the world. I don’t think that he ever said he is running a missionary.

4. Don’t create a Cult of personality

Definition of cult of personality from Wiki:

A cult of personality arises when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods [which?] to create an idealized, heroic, and at times worshipful image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. Sociologist Max Weber developed a tripartite classification of authority; the cult of personality holds parallels with what Weber defined as “charismatic authority“. A cult of personality is similar to divinization, except that it is established by mass media and propaganda usually by the state, especially in totalitarian (or sometimes authoritarian) states.

It happens a lot. You can also witness this in many of Sadhguru’s followers. Some of them even have a mild ‘Celebrity worship syndrome ’ .

Here, I want to mention quote of Lucretia Mott:

“… my convictions led me to adhere to the sufficiency of the light within us, resting on truth as authority, rather than “taking authority for truth.”“, quoted in “Eminent women of the age

Sadhguru himself said it in a podcast: Truth is Authority. Authority is not Truth

Why am I mentioning it here? Sadhguru is not asking you to spend your time in idealizing and worshiping him. He says that he offers tools and methods for your well being. Your valuable time should be spent on trying those methods to liberate yourself and be enlightened first. The truth that you see, the absolute reality that you realize as the result of your Sadhana is the authority, not Sadhguru himself.

5. Don’t comment on internet posts without reading and understanding it fully.

This actually happens as a side effect of cult of personality that I explained in #4. In their attempt to obsessively defending their leader, they quickly comment on internet posts that criticizes their leader without reading the full post. Don’t be surprised if you witness this in this answer, it may happen 🙂 . Because, the followers of Sadhguru do this a lot.

I recently witnessed a hilarious example for this. One guy, who wanted to support Sadhguru, uploaded a video in Youtube which was in response to some of the allegations against Sadhguru. But he actually worded the title of the video in a different way so that it sounds like the video is about defaming Sadhguru. He intentionally did that as he mentioned later in the comments, because he wanted the critics of Sadhguru to watch that video and understand the truth. The content of the video actually explains that those allegations are false. But something unexpected happened. The comments which later appeared for that video were from the followers of Sadhguru. They started abusing the uploader in their comments. This, obviously is the result of commenting on a video without watching it.

They also upvote or like the posts blindly. They don’t really worry about the validity of the content of a particular post. They just skim through the content quickly and think ‘Does this post criticize Sadhguru in any way? let me downvote it.. Does it praise him in anyway? Let me upvote it’… Sometimes they upvote a content just because it praises Sadhguru, even if the content is completely contradictory to what Sadhguru says.

6. Don’t ridicule Logic and Reasoning

This is an important point, because a lot of Sadhguru’s followers have a weird aversion towards logic and reasoning.

You may have heard many mystics say that logic and reasoning is not helpful in understanding absolute reality. You can’t understand the nature of enlightenment with logic and reasoning alone. It is true. But it only applies to the ultimate reality, the eternal witness, the absolute truth (or Brahman, nirvana or by whatever name you want to call it).. It doesn’t apply to anything that is objective. And, your thoughts, emotions, perceptions and sensations are also objective because you can witness them. If you want to understand the truth of anything that is objective, you need to use logic and reasoning .And, if you want to understand that which is the eternal witness, you need to meditate..

In the debate between Sadhguru and Javed Akter, you may hear Javed saying ‘One of the things that these spiritual leaders do is to advise people not to use their minds’.. Sadhguru, in response to that, said ‘I never said anyone not to use their minds.If you have gone to wrong gurus, then I am not responsible.’… Understood? Sadhguru never told you not to use your mind!

You may want to this answer for more clarification: Shanmugam P’s answer to There is an article on Nirmukta website that critically analyzes Sadhguru’s statements. Is the way Sadhguru was exposed by Nirmukta community genuine?

7. Done talk about anything that is not in your experience

Here is an excerpt from Sadhguru’s book ‘Enlightenment – An Inside Story

Questioner: What is the difference between mind and atma?

Sadhguru: Oh! (Laughs). Which atma are you talking about? What atma have you experienced? You know the function of the mind to some extent, but atma — what do you know about it? You are talking about stories that other people have told you. To put it very bluntly, the moment you start talking about what is not in your experience, you are just lying to yourself, is it not? So don’t talk about atmas. About mind, we can see.

I just want to remind what Sadhguru says to these followers. Because, when they begin to act like gurus (refer #2), they talk about all kinds of things that they have heard from Sadhguru. But Sadhguru really doesn’t ask you to do that.. He wants you to try the methods that he has given to you.

Sadhguru asks you to be skeptic. He says that skeptics are the true seekers . It is true.. A believer can never be a seeker.

8. Don’t make assumptions about the questioner based on the question.

There are two kinds of questions. There are some troll questions that I have seen which presupposes something in the question itself. In Quora, I have seen such questions. They are asked to troll people, not because the questioner genuinely expects an answer.

But I saw a Youtube video where the questioner asked Sadhguru ‘How do I know if you are not Ram Rahim?’.. Do you think there is anything wrong with the question? Do you think the questioner was stupid just because he asked this question? No!

The questioner doesn’t seem to know about Sadhguru. He probably heard about him for the first time. Since there has been many abuses in the name of spirituality and since the case of Ram Rahim is very recent, it is natural for such a question to arise to many people when they meet a new spiritual leader. The questioner didn’t accuse Sadhguru of anything, he didn’t have any preconceived idea about him. He just asks a question that starts with ‘How’… But if you read the comments on that Youtube video, you will see that people accuse him of being a stupid…

A commentator starts by saying this:

Some idiots find joy in equating Ram Rahim with Sadhguru, Open your freaking eyes and go around the country.

And that comment has 16 likes!!!

9. Don’t create unnecessary prejudice against anything

Prejudice and spirituality don’t go together…Prejudice is anti-spiritual. But I have witnessed some people show prejudice against science, other gurus, people who are not spiritual etc.. The worst thing happens when they show prejudice against foreigners.

Consider the following comment that I saw online from a follower:

You shall be proven wrong, and you obviously don’t know what I mean by common sense, no physicist today can compare themselves to tesla and Einstein, why Is this? Becuse they are materialistic, arrogant and think they know everything and everything exists in the 3d world.

He is very confident that all physicists are materialistic, arrogant and think they know everything. Really? How many physicists in the world did he meet to come to this conclusion? How can all of them arrogant? This is prejudice..

Let me show you a worst case.. A question was asked to a famous Quoran to know what he thinks about Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. Here is the answer given by him:

I had never heard of him before someone mentioned him in one of his answers. I am listening to the Sadhguru videos on YouTube now. I think that Yogis like this spend most of their time thinking about stuff so they usually have some interesting insights.

This video about awareness is interesting.

And, here is a comment posted by a follower in response to this answer:

How did this follower guy come to a conclusion that the person who answered the question as ‘bitter arrogant American’? Prejudice! When I read his answer, I only sense some admiration for Sadhguru.

10. Do the programs of Isha Foundation

Enough of the don’ts… The above 9 points have sufficiently addressed them. But this point is very important…

Do you understand the purpose of all the youtube videos of Sadhguru? Do you understand the purpose of his talks and what he really wants you to do? Do you understand what he means when he says ‘I don’t have any teaching, I only have methods’ ? Do you understand how you can actually try those methods?

Sadhguru spends all his time talking and lecturing because he wants you to do the programs in Isha more than anything else. He wants you to focus on your spiritual practice. He doesn’t want you to argue with people, label them with names, start a missionary, preach others and worship him. He wants you to do Isha programs, period!

I am reminded of a guy who started an argument with me to prove me wrong on my answer that I wrote against blindly following an authority. All I wanted to stress in that answer was that no person is infallible, even if they are enlightened and that blind following is a big problem. But he seemed to be a severe victim of ‘SIWOTI’ syndrome (refer point 3). He even gave me some spiritual advice. He answers a lot of questions about Sadhguru and gives spiritual advice to many people. He even used a lot of abusive words in some comments. And I was surprised to read one of his answers where he declares ‘I have not done any programs in Isha yet’.. What???

Hope you get my point!

You may also be interested in this answer of mine: Shanmugam P’s answer to What is your review of Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev (Indian yogi)?

 

Which Philosophy Personally Appeals More to You, Buddhism or Advaita Vedanta?

(This is a repost of the answer that I wrote in Quora for the same question)

Both point to the same truth!

I have noticed that many people don’t agree when it is said both are the same, because they are only looking at both of them in philosophical level. When it comes to ultimate reality, no matter what words we use, they can be always misleading.

I am talking from my own experience. Oneness with the rest of the existence is a living reality for me. But I will back up my statements by quoting both Vedantic and Buddhist scriptures.

The main source of suffering in our lives is caused by identification. We get identified with our mind, our body, our thoughts, our emotions etc. This identification of mistaking something that is not Self as Self is termed as Avidya or ignorance. Ignorance causes us to think that there is a separate individual self which needs to be protected and enhanced.

In other words, we feel experientially that we are separate from the rest of the world. This separation causes us to crave for fulfillment. That is why Buddha said craving is the root cause of suffering. It is Avidya, the ignorance which causes craving. Buddha is talking about the immediate cause and Vedanta is talking about the original cause.

Some people will object to this by saying that Buddhism doesn’t say that there is something eternal. First of all, when you realize that time itself is an illusion, you will also realize that eternity is only an idea. Buddha was more specific and straight forward, while Vedanta is little compassionate and gives you something that your mind can grasp.

When anyone asked Buddha any metaphysical questions such as ‘Is there anything eternal’, Buddha was silent. It is called Noble Silence .He talked about the impermanence of aggregates, but what we call in Vedanta as absolute reality is not one of the aggregates. It is not anything that is objective. It cannot be put into words. But both Vedanta and Buddhism has actually hinted about this absolute reality with striking similarity.

See the below examples:

Vedanta:

“It is this Akshara (the Imperishable), O Gargi, so the knowers of Brahman say. It is neither gross nor subtle, neither short nor long, not red, not viscid, not shadowy, not dark, not the air, not the ether, not adhesive, tasteless, odourless, without the sense of sight, without the sense of hearing, without the vital principle, mouthless, without measure, neither interior nor exterior,. It eats nothing, nobody eats it.”

– Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3-8-8.

Buddhism:

“There is that dimension, monks, where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind; neither dimension of the infinitude of space, nor dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, nor dimension of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor staying; neither passing away nor arising: unestablished, unevolving, without support [mental object]. This, just this, is the end of stress.”

– Buddha (in Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (1))

Buddha directly talks about something that is eternal too, but he uses the word ‘unborn’:

There is, monks, an unborn— unbecome — unmade — unfabricated. If there were not that unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, there would not be the case that escape from the born — become — made — fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, escape from the born — become — made — fabricated is discerned

– Buddha (in Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (3))

So, why did Buddha reject Vedas when Vedanta says that Vedas are the only authority?

We need to take Buddha’s time into account. Buddha lived sometime around 800 BC- 600 BC. It was during those times when many rishis were able to realize that there is something beyond the benefits that was got from mere rituals..Vedic rituals only focused on materialistic benefits that people could enjoy in three worlds. They were never about ultimate reality. That is when two great upanishads, Brihadaranyaka upanishad and Chandgoya upanishads were compiled. It must have taken a century or two; Buddha started talking to people at the same time period. So, we can safely conclude that when Buddha was alive, upanishads were not a part of Vedas.

This will raise many objections. Because, many people believe that Vedas are eternal and infallible. Even Shankara believed so. But, consider the following verses from Brihadaranyaka upanishad and the commentary from Shankara:

From chapter 6, section 4:

Verse 6: If man sees his reflection in water, he
should recite the following Mantra : ‘ (May the
gods grant) me lustre, manhood, reputation,
wealth and merits.’ She (his wife) is indeed the
goddess of beauty among women. Therefore he
should approach this handsome woman and
speak to her.

Shankara’s commentary:

If perchance he sees his reflection in water, he
should recite the following Mantra : ‘(May the gods
grant) me lustre,’ etc. She is indeed the goddess of
beauty among women. Therefore he should approach
this handsome woman and speak to her, when she has
taken a bath after three ‘nights.

Verse 7 : If she is not willing, he should buy her
over; and if she is still unyielding, he should
strike her with a stick or with the hand and
proceed, uttering the following Mantra, ‘I take
away your reputation,’ etc. She is then actually
discredited.

Shankara’s commentary:

If she is not willing, he should buy her over,
press his wishes through ornaments etc.; and if she is
still unyielding, he should strike her with a stick or
with the hand
, and announcing that he was going to
curse her and make her unfortunate, he should ·proceed,
uttering the following Mantra : ‘I take away your
reputation: etc. As a result of that curse, she comes
to be known as barren and unfortunate, and is then
actually discredited.

The above verses show how totally male dominative the society was those days.. Even though this doesn’t have anything to do with enlightenment, this example shows how one should not take everything just because it comes from a scripture or a person who is regarded as an authority.

And I don’t think that such infallible and eternal upanishads can advice someone to beat his wife if she doesn’t agree for sex.

You may say that these were later interpolations. But if that is the case, how could we trust Vedas in the first place?

But I know that Vedic verses such as Nasadiya Suktha and almost all upanishads have immense wisdom. We have to see them as collection of various poems composed by different people, instead of seeing them as infallible and eternal scriptures. I know that it is very difficult for many Indians to accept, because we are deeply blinded by pride and confirmation bias.

So, Why did Vedanta say that Vedas are only pramana (means of knowledge)?

Let us talk about three different methods of acquiring knowledge in general. (Vedanta uses six, but let us talk about three important ones here)

  1. Direct experience
  2. Inference
  3. Testimony from an authority.

In our daily life, we can get to know about many things through direct experience and inference. But we would never know the path to end the suffering unless someone tells us, simple!

So our ancient Indians selected the Upanishads as the only reliable authority to teach us the path towards liberation. It is just a standardization made by humans to avoid any conflict. And according to the social structure that prevailed those days, instead of relying any random person’s words as authority, it was reasonable to accept Upanishads as authority.

But we live in 21st century now. We are aware of things like confirmation bias and we are more keen towards human rights. While we do appreciate and show immense reverence to our ancient scriptures, it is nothing wrong in changing certain things to suit our modern society.

Also, Vedanta uses a certain teaching method called Adyaropa Apavada while Buddhism teaches directly and precisely. Vedanta is poetic where as Buddhism is empirical. Buddhism gives you the raw truth but Vedanta offers to you with added sweets and flavors. The only problem in Vedanta is that people may get stuck with the words and concepts.

You can find more details in my post here where I have included some additional points: Buddhism and Vedanta are the Same – A Detailed Comparison

If you are looking for a great spiritual authority to confirm the validity of Buddha’s message, then I will quote some of the words from Bhagwan Ramana Maharishi:

Disciple: Research on God has been going on from time immemorial. Has the final word been said?

Maharshi: (Keeps silence for some time.)

Disciple: (Puzzled) Should I consider Sri Bhagavan’s silence as the reply to my question?

Maharshi: Yes. Mouna is Isvara-svarupa.Hence the text: “The Truth of Supreme Brahman proclaimed through Silent Eloquence.”

Disciple: Buddha is said to have ignored such inquiries about God.

Maharshi: And for this reason was called a sunyavadin (nihilist). In fact Buddha concerned himself more with directing the seeker to realize Bliss here and now that with academic discussion about God, etc.