The Evolution of Vedanta, Yoga and Buddhism – A Truth Revealed

The aim of this article is to show that  Vedanta as we know today and Yoga which is practiced today are incomplete when taught independently. They have lost a lot of essential teachings of ancient rishis by evolving into two separate schools.  It also  aims to show that these modern schools have deviated much from the teachings of Ancient India.

Vedanta and Yoga were never seperare during the time of Upanishads. There were not two different schools. Instead, the teachings of Ancient India mainly included the following two aspects:

  • Insight

This constitutes getting insight into the nature of reality and seeing that the separate self is illusory in the moment to moment experience. Practices like self-inquiry and  Buddhist mindfulness are essentially the same and are mainly insight practices. The Advaita Vedanta that we know now focuses mainly on insight.

  • Concentration

This is often neglected in traditional Advaita but it was once advocated as a necessary skill to develop along with insight. Concentration and insight complement each other. There are some seekers who can do well by focusing on concentration and developing the insight later. But there are also seekers who are comfortable in doing insight practices first and achieve one pointed concentration later. Upasana in Vedanta (which is not taught in the modern days), Yogic samadhi and Buddhist Shamatha are practices that develop concentration.

It is definitely possible to bypass concentration practices altogether and practice insight alone. Concentration will automatically develop as a by product. But this is not true for all people. Some people are more comfortable and capable of starting with Yogic practices.Also, practicing both of them together can be very helpful towards liberation.

Because of this, yogic concentration practices and insight practices were both taught in Upanishads. In fact, there are certain upanishads which are dedicated to Yogic practices alone. They were never considered as separate schools of thought. Even Adi Shankara has elaborated on yogic and tantric practices on his text Soundarya Lahari.

The theory part of both Advaita and Yoga were adopted from Samkhya karika written by an ancient rishi called Kapila. In Bhagwad Gita, Samkhya is mentioned as another term for Gnana yoga, which is nothing but self-inquiry practices  and Nidhidhyasana of Vedanta that we know today. The terminology of Samkhya appears to be dualistic but in essence, it was not; It was actually a path for non-dual wisdom. Otherwise it would not have been mentioned in Bhagwad Gita, which is actually considered to be an authoritative text of Vedanta, along with Brahma Sutras and Upanishads. Samkhya mainly focused on discrimination between Purusha and Prakriti (satya and mithya in Vedanta) and offered insight into the reality which actually resulted in  seeing Purusha and Prakrita as one non-dual reality, even though it was not explicitely stated in Samkya sutras.

So in essence,  Vedanta, Yoga and Samkya were not really separate schools of thoughts.  These were words used to represent the aspects of the same essential teaching.  But after the period of Upanishads, people started giving more importance to Vedic rituals rather than focusing on the core teachings that help individuals towards their liberation.

Wisdom by Buddha

nadja-friesen-165761.jpg

The first rebellion against this growing importance of pointless rituals was done by Buddha. He established the core ancient teachings of insight and concentration but just used different terminology. He categorized the teachings into two main paths, which are complimentary to each other.

1)Vipassana (Insight)

This is essentially the same as Vedanta. Buddhist mindfulness is a practice to examine each thought and experience that arise each moment and look into the nature of their absence of a separate self, impermanence and suffering. This is exactly what self-inquiry does when you inquire the nature and origin of each thought. What was called as Nirguna Brahman (absolute reality that is empty of attributes) in ancient India was named as ‘Sunyata’ (emptiness) by Buddha. Since Buddha took a psychological approach, he intentionally used negative terminology so that people don’t form mental concepts about the absolute reality.

2)Shamatha (Concentration)

Buddha didn’t ignore the yogic practices of concentration. He introduced Jhana meditations which are essentially the same as Dhyana, Dharana and Samadhi. But he also explained how practicing either insight or concentration can automatically improve the other.

Buddha took an empirical approach in understanding the nature of mind. The deep psychological insights found in Apidhamma in Pali Canon, is very unique to Buddhism which is completely absent in the traditional schools of Advaita and Yoga which developed later as separate schools.The psychological wisdom found in Buddhism is compared to modern Psychology because of so many similarities between the two.

Traditional Vedanta, Samkhya and Yoga talk about three gunas which are sattva (balance), rajas (restlessness , too much activity in the mind), Tamas (inertia or mental dulness) to show how rajas and tamas are hindrances to insight and concentration. Buddha went futher and added three more to the two hindrances (panca nivaranani): Restlessness, Dulness and sloth, sensory desire, ill will and doubt.

Finally, Buddha went one step above in handling the mere curious people who wanted to accumulate factual  and theoretical information. He very well understood that such an accumulation of unnecessary knowledge may reinforce the idea of a separate self. So, contrary to the ancient teachings which taught different theories of creation (Ajativada, drishti-shristi vada, shristi-drishti vada), Buddha asked people to ignore such questions and theories and told them that these questions do not lead people to true knowledge. These questions have been termed as ‘Avyakata’ (unfathomable)  by Buddha. Sometimes, he was silent when people asked such questions which is popularly known as ‘Noble silence’in Buddhism.

 

Wisdom by Shankara

Any form of teachings get clouded and polluted overtime by people when they add new interpretations, ideas and speculations. This is mainly done by curious scholars who were not enlightened and had no interest in liberation.

When it comes to Buddhism, it faced two major problems:

  • There was a strong political pressure in Indian kingdoms to eliminate Buddhism since Buddhists didn’t practice Vedic rituals. But people were clinging so much to Vedas that they were not able to accept or understand the revolutionary teachings of Buddha. Because of this pressure Buddhism was widely eliminated from India but became very popular in China, Japan and South Asian countries.
  • Due to lack of teachers and proper guidance, many Buddhists in India became deluded and began to misunderstand the core teachings of Buddha.

Adi Shankra was not against Buddha’s core teachings or Yoga. But he reestablished the core teachings of ancient India by writing commentaries and texts on both insight and concentration practices, debating with ritual oriented Mimamsa scholars and deluded Buddhist scholars.

Realizing that vedic rituals and worshipping personal deities could not be easily removed from Indian tradition, Shankara had no choice but to compromise on certain things. He accepted the worship of personal God but popularised the concept of Ishwara and taught people that they can revere their favourite personal deity as Ishwara. He divided the sects of such deity worships to six categories (shanmata), based on the six popular deities, but insisted that any personal God is the representation of Absolute reality.

But since he was pretty much aware of what was  happening to the core teachings of Buddha, he had to debate with the remaining deluded Buddhist scholars to make them accept his newly formulated teachings. But he never excluded Yogic practices that were meant to achieve one-pointed concentration and Samadhi. In fact, he praised Yoga Vashista, the text which contain both vedantic and yogic teachings and regarded Vashista, the author of Yoga Vashista as the first teacher of Vedanta. But apart from the terminology and certain culturally oriented concepts, his teachings were essentially the same as Buddha’s teachings.

Distortion of the Original teachings

Again, needless to say, Shankara’s orginal teachings were distorted. Scholars conveniently ignored the concentration oriented practices and maintained the school of Advaita based on the rest of Shankara’s teachings. Overtime, vedantins became mere intellectuals who kept repeating that all is maya. This led to 5 other subschools of vedanta which criticized vedantins as mayavadis.

At the same time, Yoga started evolving as a separate school which ignored a lot of insight present in  Vedanta. They became more focused on physical postures and chasing various experiences.

 

Apidhamma – An Overview of Buddhist Psychology

Buddha was one of the earliest psychologists of human history. Modern Psychologists are impressed by the vast psychological knowledge present in the Buddhist doctrine. When investigating the mind to find the cause and cessation of suffering, Buddha took an approach that is similar to the scientific method employed in modern scientific research.

The collection of canonical texts revered as exclusively authoritative in Theravada Buddhism is known as Tripitaka, which means ‘Three baskets’.

Here is a short description of those three baskets:

(1) The basket of expected discipline from monks (Vinaya Piṭaka)

It consists of rules and regulations of monastic life including dress code, dietary rules and prohibitions of certain personal conducts.

2) The basket of discourse (Sūtra Piṭaka, Nikayas)

This is the collection of discourses given by Buddha,

(3) The basket of special doctrine (Abhidharma Piṭaka)

This includes technical, analytical and systematic content with deep insights into the psychology human mind. It was taught by Buddha to his most eminent disciples.

buddhist psychology

Apidhamma talks about two truths: Ultimate truth (Sammuti Sacca)and Conventional truth (Paramattha Sacca):

Conventional truth: The world we perceive which appears to have individuals interacting with each other is the conventional truth. We use our conventional language to express different things in the conventional truth. The idea that there is an individual self which is the essence of a human being is an apparent reality but ultimately, there is no individual self or essence.

This concept of a relative truth also exists in Vedanta, which is called Vyāvahārika (vyavahara), or samvriti-saya.

Ultimate truth: When we look at the truth in ultimate level, there is no self or an entity in reality. All that exist are aggregates or skandhas. The five aggregates or heaps are: form (or matter or body) (rupa), sensations (or feelings, received from form) (vedana), perceptions (samjna), mental activity or formations (sankhara), and consciousness (vijnana). These five aggregates completely explain a sentient being’s physical and mental existence.

So, anything you think as individual is actually made up of these five aggregates each of which are “not I, and not myself”. According to Buddha, clinging to these aggregates as if they are real is what causes suffering.

When we negate all these aggregates as not self, that which remains is ‘sunyata’ translated as ‘emptiness’ in English. But Buddha chose to express everything in negative terminology and hence Sunyata just explains what it is not. According to that definition, the reality, the ultimate truth which exists is free of any essence, anything that can be conceived by mind or senses.

But this ‘Sunyata’ in Buddhism and the ‘Brahman’ described in Vedanta is actually the same. The problem with the word Brahman is that it lets one to imagine Brahman as something, an entity or an essence. But even the Vedantic texts say that Brahman cannot be described in words because it is not possible to objectify it in anyway. It is not possible to mentally conceive an image or description about Brahman but it can be realized and seen as the truth of everything we perceive, by direct experiential knowledge. There is a term called ‘Anubhava’ which has the aspects of both experience and knowledge of the absolute truth. In Vedanta, this absolute or ultimate reality is called as Vyāvahārika satya (vyavahara), or samvriti-saya.

Buddhism goes even deeper than Vedanta in explaining psychological aspects of human thought.

Dhammas

The reality can also be described in terms of Dhammas.Dhammas are the ultimate entities or momentary events which make up the fabric of our experience of reality. The conventional reality of substantial objects and persons is just a conceptual construct created by the mind on a constant flow of dhammas which appear and disappear.

There are four categories of dhammas:

Citta – It is one’s mindset, or state of mind but cannot be classified as an aggregate because it is neither an entity nor a process.

Cetasika (mental factors, mental events, associated mentality)- the mental factors are categorized as formations (samskaras) concurrent with Citta. There are 52 types of Cetasika.

Rūpa — (physical occurrences, material form), 28 types

Nibbāna — (Extinction, cessation). This dharma is unconditioned it neither arises nor ceases due to causal interaction.

Many other concepts such as svabhava and causality exist in Buddhist psychology. In Buddhism, a deep insight into a person’s mind stream to see the impermanence, suffering and anatta (non-self) in everything perceived in a person’s citta is stressed for the cessation of suffering.

The core practice of Buddhist path to liberation is mindfulness. Being mindful of one’s moment to moment experience including thoughts, sensations, volition, states of mind etc with non-judgemental attitude, openness and acceptance gives insights into workings of the mind and ultimately leads to cessation of suffering and Nirvana.

A simple outline of this spiritual path excluding all its complex theoretical structure is explained in my post ‘Awakening through Mindfulness’.

I have explained my own journey in the following articles:

1.The Journey of a Seeker

2.Spiritual enlightenment – Is it a Myth or Real