Buddha and Shankara
[Lord Buddhas Teachings]
by B.P. Wadia
© 2003 Online Teosofiska Kompaniet Malmö
Thou halt to live and breathe in all, as all that thou perceivest breathes in
thee, to feel thyself abiding in all things, all things in Self.
During this month, all who honor Gautama Buddha will celebrate the Triple Festival of Buddhism. It represents the birth date of the body of Prince Siddhartha, who renounced his crown for the begging-bowl and his Kingdom for the Sangha of monks and nuns. It also represents the day of his attainment to supreme Wisdom at Gaya under the Bodhi Tree. On that day, after forty-five years of magnificent service, he cast away the body through which he had labored. Tradition has it that He, the Compassionate One, remains to bless Humanity through his ideation in the sphere of Paranirvana.
In later times, orthodox Brahmanas included him in the pantheon of Avataras of Vishnu. His many reforms did not fully succeed in purifying Hinduism. Like him, the illustrious Adi Shankara, whose anniversary also falls in this month of May, did not fully succeed in his mission of religious reformation. He was called by the orthodox a "Buddha in disguise" and in his teachings, metaphysical and ethical, Shankara was that!
What did these two mighty Adepts plan to do for humanity by incarnating in Hindu bodies some 2,500 years after the starting of the Kali Yuga at the death of Krishna? Both Buddha and Shankara were metaphysicians and grand philosophers, but both emphasized the life of purity and piety and of service to humanity. While Buddha, speaking the language of the people, preached to very large masses, Shankara used Sanskrit, the tongue of the learned leaders of the people. The aim of both was the purgation from Hinduism of the corruption of priestcraft and the emphasizing of individual effort in the war against the evils rooted in human nature. Both offered a philosophical basis for high ethics.
They pointed to the truth that noble morality was the real enlightener of human minds. In more than one way, both Buddha and Shankara pointed out that by intuition alone came understanding of universal ultimates and came the solution to the final problems of matter, mind, and spirit. Each was a logician who reasoned superbly, confuting learned minds. Even today, materialistic reasoners are unable to comprehend the profound doctrines of both these Teachers because the philosophical logicians are not capable of using their own Divine Intuition. Without that Soul faculty, the truths of life cannot be lived. The development of Intuition demands the purification and elevation of man's moral nature. A character clogged with egotism and vanity beclouds the thinking mind and disables it from catching the truths of Living Ideas.
Both Buddha and Shankara, going straight to the Heart of Religion, proclaimed anew the teachings of Sanatana Dharma, Eternal Religion, the Perennial Philosophy, Theosophy. Buddha cut across Sruti and Smriti – Revelation and Tradition – and proclaimed the age-old moral and metaphysical truths in as simple and straightforward a language as was possible for the race mind to appreciate. Shankara who followed used the old texts but by writing commentaries on them. He gave a fresh reinterpretation to the texts. He called the attention of the learned to the importance of living the life, building not temples however beautiful, of stone and rock, but erecting the Living Temple of the Living God.
Great sages have uniformly called attention to the Bodhi Dharma, the Wisdom Religion, which antedates the Vedas. Its central and most fundamental doctrine is Universal Unity rooted in the One Spirit, which manifests as the Law of Brotherhood in the human kingdom. The truth of Advaita taught by Shankara demands that each man recognize the Divine Presence in every human heart, which in turn requires us to practice the great truth of the Buddha:–
"Never in this world does Hatred cease by Hatred. Hatred ceases by Love. This is the Law Eternal."
Commenting on the Gita, VI, 32, Shankara remarks–
"Seeing that that which is pleasure and pain to himself is likewise pleasure and pain to all beings, he causes pain to no being; he is harmless. Doing no harm and devoted to right knowledge, he is regarded as the highest among Yogins."
From "Thus have I heard", pages 21-23. Utgiven av Indian Institute of World Culture, 1959.
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