Showing posts with label Acharya Mahayogi Shridhar Rana Rinpoche. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Acharya Mahayogi Shridhar Rana Rinpoche. Show all posts

Thank you “Anonymous” (can I mention your name? probably not haha) for sending me this compilation. Very good compilation of teachings by Archaya Mahayogi Shridhar Rana Rinpoche (I have posted a few articles by him on the AtR blog, recommended reading!)

Update 2023:

Thank you “Anonymous” for sending me Marshland Flowers compiled into a PDF file


A student of Archaya Mahayogi Shridhar Rinpoche informed me that Rinpoche has recently revised his article Madhyamika Buddhism Vis-a-vis Hindu Vedanta and uploaded one new article on Nyingma (a school of Tibetan Buddhism)'s view. Rinpoche also personally asked his student to inform me about their free online magazine, I thanked the guru and signed up. I also mentioned that I have dreamt of receiving teachings from him before, perhaps some karmic connection...

After the e-mail I did a little research and found a biography (
Part 1:, Part 2:, of this great teacher Archaya Mahayogi Shridhar Rinpoche. He used to practice the Hindu tantras and Vedanta under a qualified Vedanta teacher for nine years intensely in the cemetaries, etc. Eventually he realized the Atman-Brahman, the ultimate goal of Hinduism, and his realization was confirmed by his Vedantic masters to be correct and profound.

However, still unsatisfied with his realization, he continued searching, first into Zen Buddhism, then later into the teachings of Vajrayana Buddhism, including the Vajrayana Tantras, Mahamudra and Dzogchen teachings, and practiced them thoroughly until he attained realization and was asked to start teaching by his teachers. His main practise is of the Lamdre system of teachings in the Sakya school. Despite having practised the teachings thoroughly and attained realization, he continues to go into deep meditation retreats for over a decade to deepen his enlightenment/experience and was given the title 'Mahayogi' and 'Rinpoche' by
H.E. Chobgay Trichen Rinpoche. He continues to be in practice retreats and share his knowledge with others at the same time.

As one of the few great Buddhist teachers in Nepal where the majority of the population belong to the Hindu faith, a place where myths and misconceptions of Buddhism are abound, he is in a great position to correct all of these misconceptions and do an accurate and unbiased comparison between the teachings of Buddhism vis-a-vis Hinduism due to his deep knowledge and experience of the Buddhist teachings as well as his previous experience with the Hindu tradition. He emphasizes that the comparison was done not in order to demean one system of teaching over another but to provide greater clarity on the essential doctrines of each system so that they could each be understood correctly, as he says, "I must reiterate that this difference in both the system is very important to fully understand both the systems properly and is not meant to demean either system."

Anyway, I looked further into their website and over the past few days I've read through all the articles of Marshland Flowers (from series 1 to 7) and highly recommend them - they deal with several subjects of dharma including anatman (non-self), emptiness, dependent origination, the four noble truths, Buddhism vis-a-vis Hinduism, rebirth, karmic propensities (samskaras), meditation, vipassana (insight meditation), shamatha (calm abiding meditation), siddhis/powers, the tenets of Sravakayana and Mahayana Buddhism, as well as Tantras, Buddhism and science, etc etc. All these articles are of great quality, well written and highly recommended. All in all, it provides a pretty complete overall understanding of the core/fundamental Buddhist teachings. I've added this blog entry to the 'Stickied Posts' section of this blog (see right hand corner).

p.s. I find using Windows Narrator to read aloud long texts online easier for me:


Marshland Flowers

Ratnashree's series articles published weekly in News Front. The articles clarify prevailing misconceptions on Buddhism and help general readers understand authentic Buddhism. The articles first appeared on 16-22 April 2007 issue. News Front is a weekly newspaper that is published every Monday. Read the articles published to date in full.


Anyway, here's an excerpt from Marshland Flowers Part 5, it is about the subject of Anatman.

136. More on Fallacy of Language and Modern Thinking

Acharya Mahayogi Sridhar Rana Rinpoche

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Continuing with the discussion on the limitedness of language - the very sentence 'I see the table' assumes that the table 'I' see is out there somewhere separate from me. And as a corollary which we will deal with later on, this 'I' which sees really existing is in fact the center of the seeing and the table out there, which 'I' see also really exist.

Let us take another example. We say the lighting flashed, this is similar in structure to I see. This grammatical structure implies that there is a lighting that flashed. The lighting is the subject (like the 'I which sees), which does the action of flashing (verb). This act is different from the lighting. But, and a big but is that is there really a lighting separate from flashing, or is flashing itself lighting? Can we really separate flashing or take away flashing and say - here is lighting that had flashed, which is separate thing from flashing? Can we really do that? If we removed flashing, would lightening really remain per se? But just a few minute ago we thought and felt and experience (or seem to experience) that there is a lighting that had done the action of flashing, didn't we?

Now, let us take this analysis back to 'I see the table'. Some people may say the mind sees the table just to be clever, but really we aren't changing the structure of the language and thus the structure of the experience. We have just substituted the word 'mind' for 'I' and the rest of the implications are still the same. There is a mind which is the subject, which exists independently and it is thus independent and separate mind which does that action of seeing the table, which is the object and which too is independent out there (like the lighting that flashes, the mind or I see). If we look at the seeing out, would there still remain a mind which sees or is the act of seeing itself the .........

Thus, language structure is so much a part of our programming samskara that we do not question the situation out there or the real experience or reality/actuality or fact. It has become so much a part of the way we experience things, a program that was downloaded from the time prenatal/pre-conceptual moment onward or even earlier downloaded in the mother's cellular memory itself. Perhaps that it does not occur to us easily that our experience is molded by this grammatical structure itself.

What we tend to forget is that there is a certain experience going on which the sentence 'I see the table' or 'I see the sound' etc, is trying to point at. It is however never questioned whether the implications evoked from the structure of the sentences is really out there or not, or whether this grammatical structure is coloring and distorting the experience, changing the 'pure experience' into a shape that this grammatical structure demands. Even to question this seems so odd that most people would never even think of it and if somebody raises such a question he/she would be ridiculed by saying 'Are you crazy?' Have you gone off the rocks? But didn't Galileo face the same taunts when he questioned whether the sun really went around earth?

Let us go on a little journey for a short while into the world of Alice in Wonderland, for that is now it would look like to the programmed thinking of most people.

Suppose you have a grown up with a different grammatical structure. We have already said that the sentence 'I see the table' is pointing at a certain experiential act. But the grammatical structure here demands thing are there in the experience. We'll continue with this in the next article.

137. Unchanging 'I' or is it

Acharya Mahayogi Sridhar Rana Rinpoche

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The grammatical structure demands that there is an 'I' or mind that is the subject or the seer, watcher, knower, that this 'I' sees or goes through the action of seeing, which is an action verb, which is different from the 'I' which is a pronoun and there is a different noun, separate from both the verb (seeing) and the pronoun 'I' which is the table. The 'table' is the object, a noun and distinctly separate and independent from the subject and the verb. And this unquestioned programming is so deeply ingrained into our subconscious mind that we can safely say that, that is how everybody experiences the experience of what the sentence 'I see the table' is trying to point at.

Now suppose you had grown up in another grammatical structure. Remember that language is meant to point at an experience. So if an Alice in Wonderland language also pointed equally well at that experience it would fulfill the purpose of language. So we all know that an experience is a process and not really a thing - entity per se. So seeing a table is a process, a verb, and not an entity, a noun. So suppose you had grown up with a grammatical structure which says 'tabling is going on' to point at the same experience which the sentence 'I see the table' is also trying to point at. We can certainly say that the sentence 'tabling is going on' can equally well point at the same experience which the sentence 'I am seeing the table' points at.

Infact, since it is actually a process (this experience), tabling is going on is a more accurate finger to point at it. Now, if you had grown up with this grammtical sturcture, would the experience (and the grammatical structure) imply that there is a separate table (noun-object) from the act of seeing the table (verb)? And would the structure impose an 'I' upon the experience like imposing a separate lightning different from the flashing of the light? Is there a lightning separate from the flashing which does the flasing or is the flashing itself the lightning? But flashing is an action a verb, the lightning is a noun, an object. Or is the 'Light' distinct from the flasing created merely by the langauge? Likewise, is there an 'I' that sees or is the act of seeing specified by the Alice in Wonderland language 'Tabling' itself the 'I' the seer? But I is a pronoun, seer a noun and seeing/tabling are verbs. When I say 'I see', this is a seeing I. This 'I' is defined by the 'seeing'. Now there are two questions here.

The first questions is: Is not this 'I' that sees dependent upon the seeing of the table? Can we really say that the I/seer/watcher/knower that sees will continue to exist even when the seeing stops? If so, we will have a so-called seer who does not see? Can there be a seer that does not see? Is not the seer-I defined by seeing process. Can we really speak of a seer when it is not seeing/tabling? The word Seer would be meaningless without the seeing, wouldn't it? We cannot call the seer a seer if there is no seeing going. If that is true than when seeing stops the seer also stops or ceases to exist.

The second question is that is there is a seer separate from the act of seeing or is it only an illusion created by the language structure, like the lightning and its flashes? Can there be a seer remaining [a noun] which does not see but was the one that did the seeing? Can we really separate the verb of seeing from the seer the noun or is the seer (and therefore the 'I') merely an illusion imposed up the experience?

138. I as 'Seer', 'Watcher,' 'Knower'

Acharya Mahayogi Sridhar Rana Rinpoche

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If you had grown up with the sentence structure 'Table is going on' to point at the same experience, would you be straddled with an 'I-seer' that sees and a table that is seen? Tabling is a process, and actually there is process going on which the sentence 'I see the table' is trying to point at; however like a pair of coloured glasses it imposes a lot of things on the experience which is not really out there even according to quantum physics.

Now we can see that the 'I' is not really such a central figure in our experience, nor is it so stable or permanently unchanging as it seems to be, and secondly, it is more a process, a verb, which is continuously changing than an unchanging noun, which is supposedly the central guy or doll in the experience.

Now let us look at the unchanging 'I' from another angle. When we say this 'I' is unchanging, it also implies that it is the same 'I' always. Unchanging as defined in the Hindu-Buddhist systems of the Indian Subcontinent meant 'remaining the same in all the three times'. As Sankaracharya has defined it 'Kala traya tisthatiti', which means that which remains unchanged in the three times - in all the three times - viz - past, present and future.

Now with this in the background, let us try to see if this 'I', watcher, seer or knower really remains unchanged in the three times. First of all, if we look at the 'I', 'I' continually changes its identity. When I'm in the office I am a manager or an executive at home, I'm a son in front of my father or mother, even if I may be sixty years old. I'm also a brother to my brothers and sisters. Now a wife is not the same as the executive in the office, nor is a son the same as a husband. As we can see this, 'I' is continuously changing and becoming something else according to the situation - or more technically according to the causes or conditions.

Now the question arises which one of them is the real 'I'? We normally have hundreds of 'I' which are normally changing frequently as per the situations, and none of them is the real 'I' in the sense of being the unchanging, permanent 'I'. If this husband 'I' did not change and become a father 'I' in front of his daughter or an executive 'I' in the office, not only would there be trouble (big time trouble to say the least) but we would have to call that person neurotically unbalanced, and normal social or human functions would become tipsy turvy. Yet our experience seems to point at an 'I' that is the same in all three times and therefore real and unchanging. So which of this 'I' is the real one?

Now, let us take this 'I' as the seer, watcher, knower as posited in the Vendantic system and therefore virtually all non-dualist system within Hinduism. They are called watcher (drasta), witness (sakchi), knower (gyata) because this 'I' watches or sees, knows and witnesses. So let us analyze this watcher, seer. It is called a watcher or seer because it sees. If it didn't see or watch something it would not be called a watcher, seer. We cannot have a seer which does not see. If it does not or cannot see anything, it cannot possible be called seer or watcher can we really? We need to distinguish five points we have before we get confused. A seer can see nothing - ie - the absence of things. It still sees the absence (alohara) and that is really not seeing per se. We'll continue this discussion in the next article.

139. Changing or Unchanging 'I'

Acharya Mahayogi Sridhar Rana Rinpoche

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Continuing with the discussion of absence of seeing - for example, if you are in a pitch dark room and I asked you - do you see anything? You would normally say 'I do not see anything'. But this expression is the result of the limitation of language itself, rather than the fact that you do not see. You do continue to see the pitch darkness or the absence of all things or objects. The absence or pitch darkness is also a 'thing' to see, so to say.

Once we have understood this, let us go another step further. We have already said that a seer is defined by its seeing something, even if it is an absence. There is still an absence to see and it is the seer of that absence of the pitch darkness, as the case maybe. So let us take this up. When I say 'I see the table' I am the seer of the table. At that moment, this 'I-seer' is the seer of the table and is defined by the 'table'. If there were no table to see I would not be the seer of the table, that is, I would not see the table and in effect I would not and could not say 'I see the table'. And if I did not see the table I would not be the seer of the table. Now, if this seer of the table or the 'I' was really existing (sat in Sanskrit) and therefore the same and unchanging in all three time, I would in effect be eternally be seeing the table as I or the seer would not change. But no one experiences that. We do not eternally continue to see the table unchangingly and in actuality we as the seer see something else immediately, for instance, the blue sky or the green mountain.

Again, if the seer of the table was unchanging and permanent, it could not stop seeing the table and seeing the blue sky would be a change. But in real life the objects seen by the seer is continually changing and thus also the seer of those objects. However, in the language we continuously use the same word 'I' or the same word seer-watcher-knower for the seer of all those various objects. And that gives us the feeling of the same 'I-seer-watch-knower' being there while the so called seen objects are changing like a table now, a blue sky after that, a home now, etc. etc. As before, the language structure creates an illusion of something which does not really exist out there.

Here again, our memory of I seeing the table etc. also furthers the illusion with 'I' which is based on the memory of the 'I' which had seen the table. Because of this memory, it looks like the same 'I' is seeing the blue sky which had seen the table a while ago. But actually, it is an illusion created by our memory supported by our language structure, thus creating an experience that is not out there as it appears to be. So in effect there seems to be no seer/knower/watcher which remains unchanging as the Vedanta or for that matter what Sankaracharya says in his texts like Discriminating the Watcher And the Watched (Drig Driksya Viveka). Understanding this is the key point in knowing the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism.

It is not a matter of just a difference in words but a matter of seeing two diametrically opposed experiences. One is an experience of validating that this 'I' is not related to this ephemeral world but is an unchanging permanent really existing Self called an Atman in all forms of Hinduism. However, it must be said that only the Atman of Vedantic Hinduism and all those related to the non-dual system of Vedanta (directly or indirectly) is a coherent Atman.
Comments: Thusness/Passerby recommended me this article, saying it is very good. (Comments continued in the comments section)

Update: This article has been updated recently in the source site (25th December 2012) and updated in this post on 10th January 2013.


Madhyamika Buddhism Vis-a-vis Hindu Vedanta

(A Paradigm Shift)

Ācārya Dharma Vajra (Sridhar SJB Rana)

Published: Buddhist Himalaya

Famous Indian Hindu scholars like the ex-President of India the late Radhakrishnan state ‘The Buddha did not feel that he was announcing a new religion. He was born, grew up, and died a Hindu. He was restating with a new emphasis the ancient ideals of the Indo-Aryan civilization.’ (2500 Years of Buddhism, 1971, Government of India, foreword, p.ix). Swami Vivekananda said that the Buddha was a great Vedantist for Buddhism was really only an offshoot of Vedanta(The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, volume 7, p. 59 and Inspired Talks, volume 3, p. 527). Likewise, Nepalese scholars like Mr. Chudanath Bhattarai, Swami Prapannacharya and scores other Nepalese and Indian scholars, too numerous to be mentioned here, have written that Buddhism is a reaction, a reformation of Hinduism. The Buddha tried to reform some of the malpractice within Hinduism and he never wanted to create a new religion. In short, according to these scholars, Buddhism is correct Hinduism without any malpractice and evils and what is called Hinduism is the malpractice and distorted form of the Vedas.
There are three problems with this interpretation of the Buddha’s teaching. One is that if these authors really believe that the Buddha came to reform evils, malpractices and wrong interpretation of the  Vedas, then why are they still following these “evils and malpractice” (in their own words) and not practicing the Buddha’s teachings, the reformed form of the  Vedas? How warped and distorted are the minds of people who, in one breath, proclaim the Buddha as the great reformer of Hinduism and then turn around and call Buddhism (what the Buddha taught) wrong.
Swami Vivekananda contradicts his own statement by stating that he does not agree with the doctrines of the Buddha as the Vedanta is far superior to his doctrines (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, volume 3, p. 572). However, he doesn’t give any reasons or proper refutations to justify how his Vedanta is superior to the Buddha’s doctrines. At least ancient Hindu scholars like Sankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madvacharya et al attempted to refute the Buddhist thesis to show how their view was superior, which is fair and the correct thing to do. But these later swamis simply proclaim that their “view” is superior and call it the “Lion’s Roar”. Of course, these authors contradict the Buddha’s own words as found in Pali canons where he has explicitly mentioned that what he taught was new even though it was taught by former Buddhas, but their teachings were completely lost (Pubbesu Ananussutesu Dhammesu, The Dharma Unheard Before, Vin. I, 10, v. 420). He also said very clearly in the Sammyutta Nikaya, Dhammachakkapabbatana Vaggo 56,11 that he had discovered a lost teaching not existing now , taught by the ancient Buddhas and again in the Nagara Sutta, Nidan Samyuttam, Mahavaggo , Samyutta Nikaya 12.65 he has repated the fact these teachings were of ancient Buddhas.
The Vedas were certainly not lost at the time of the Buddha as they continue to exist even now. Some of these scholars, including Vivekanada, have gone to the extent of claiming that the Buddha actually only wanted to reform the  Vedas, but his disciples misunderstood him and created a new religion. He states that ‘Shankara came, a great philosopher, and showed that the real essence of Buddhism and that of the Vedanta are not very different, but that the disciples of the Buddha did not understand the Master and have degraded themselves, denied the existence of the soul/Atman and of God/Ishwar, and have become atheists/ Nastikas’ (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: The Sages of India, vol. 3, p. 264) .
How illogical it is to believe that the Buddha’s own disciples who were validated by the Buddha himself and the unbroken lineages stemming from them did not understand him. Whereas, Hindu swamis and panditas 2,500 years later really understood the Buddha’s message! Of course it is not totally the fault of these swamis because during their time facts about Buddhism had vanished from the Indian subcontinent and only hearsay and myths remained based on which these swamis picked whatever they liked. A good example of how mixed up their knowledge of Buddhism was, is evident in the claims made by Swami Vivekanda that what was said in the Kalama Sutta (and that too improvised in a rather confused and mixed up way by him) were the last words of the Buddha (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Buddhistic India, Volume 3, p. 528).We all know that his last teaching under the Sal tree under which he attained Mahparinirvana was” Vaya Dharma sanskara apramadena sampadayetha” meaning all conditioned existence ceases so practice with mindfulness Such totally confused ideas about Buddhism and its history et al are found aplenty in the teachings of Swami Vivekanda and hundreds of such Hindu swamis, panditas and yogis from ancient times to date.
The second problem with the above interpretation made by the Hindu swamis is that it implies that the Buddha was born a Hindu. Simply because Suddhodana was a King and, therefore, called a  Ksatriya (warrior class), does not prove that he was a Hindu. First of all, what we call Hinduism did not exist at the time of the Buddha, but rather Vedic Brahmanism existed. Hence, the next question that naturally arises is that if the Buddha was really a follower of the Vedic system, why did he not call himself the great  Brahmin or  Maha-Brahmin like the great  Ksatriya Vishvamitra? It is strange to call the Buddha a proponent of Brahmanism, when he called himself the “Great  Sramana” or  Maha-Sramana. Furthermore there is absolutely no proof that the Sakyas followed the Vedic Brahmanic system. On the contrary they considered themselves superior to Vedic Kshetriyas like King Prasenjit of Kosala, whose son the Sakyas were not willing to give their daughter as the story of King Viruddhak makes it clear .They considered themselves superior to Vedic Kshetriyas , implying they were believers of the Sraman system.
Whilst Sramanism is as old as Brahmanism, a lot of research still remains to be done about it. Nonetheless, it can certainly be said that a  Sramana is not a  Brahmin. Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, also called himself a  Sramana. However, if the Buddha was merely reforming the  Vedas, why did he not call himself a Neo- Vedic, Neo- Brahmin or true  Brahmin, i.e.,  Maha-Brahmin? Instead, why did he call himself a  Maha-Sramana?
I would like to ask those scholars and their followers these questions. Nowhere in the Hindu  Shastras (teachings)are  Sramanas considered a part of the Vedic tradition. In fact the  Smritis (a category of Hindu scriptures) even go so far as to say  Brahmins should not take initiations from  Sramana systems like  Shaivism, Vaisnavism or Buddhism. In the Yagyavalka Smriti, Apararka Vyakhya it even says ( Bauddhān Pāshupatānschaiva Laukāyatika nastikan Vikarmasthān dwijān sprishtvā sachailô jalamāvishėt) that if a Hindu upper class (Dvija) is even touched by a Buddhist or a Pashupat ( followers of Shiva) or Atheist etc the Hindu should wash himself clean with his clothes and the Skandha Purana 274-287 says Vaishnavim chātha shaivim cha yoanyām dikchyām samācharet Brahmano na bhavet soatra yadhyapi syāt shadangavit meaning Those who are initiated into Vaishnavism or Shaivism or other ( meaning Buddhists and Jainas etc ) are not Brahmins even if they are learned in all the six limbs of the Vedas . It appears that  Shaivism and Viasnavism were intergrated into the Vedic fold later on. The Valmiki Ramayana Ayodhya Kanda Jaivali Prakarana 2/19/34 has Ram himself calling Buddha a thief and and an Atheist that no wise person should follow ( Yathāhi chor sa tathāhi Buddhastathāgatan nāstikamatra viddhi, tasmādhi yah sankyatamah prajānām na nāstike nābhimukho budhasyāt). This certainly doesn’t seem to considered as a reformation of the Vedic teachings to Ram in the Valmiki Ramayana? It was customary in India from ancient times to call Kings  Ksatriyas (rulers or warriors), regardless of whether they belonged to the  Sramana or  Brahmana group. Even if Suddhodana belonged to the  Brahmin school (of which there is absolutely no proof as yet), and the Buddha may have studied the  Brahmanic literatures (The Buddhist scripture the Lalita Vistar implies that he studied  Brahmanic literature also . Besides other schools, he studied even the  Kirata script. The  Kiratas who are called  Ksatriyas in the Vedic literature were not part of the Indo Aryan fold and thus in no way proves they were  Brahmanical). He certainly did not seem to have taken after Brahmanism but rather after Sramanism, which are not the same thing by any historical standards and neither is Sramanism a means to reform Brahmanism.
The third problem is that the teachings found in Buddhism do not in any way appear to be a reformation of Hinduism. Anyone who has studied Buddhism (I am not talking about prejudiced Hindu oriented scholars), can see that there is a major  paradigm shift between Hinduism and Buddhism; in fact, between all other religious systems and Buddhism. The post modern and new age concept of universalism regarding spirituality, no matter how romantically beautiful, fails miserably when it comes to addressing Buddhism. A paradigm shift cannot and should not be misconstrued as a reformation. Reforms are changes brought about within the same paradigm. Hence,  paradigm shifts are changes in the very foundations or parameters. Therefore, the basic foundations of these practices are completely different.
In such cases, it is completely confused thinking to state that one paradigm is a reformation of another. So Sramanism is a system of religion based on a completely different paradigm than the Vedic-Brahmanism or its offspring Hinduism. Therefore, it would be a gross error to say Buddhism is a reformation of Vedic Hinduism or Vedanta as Swami Vivekanda asserts. First of all, what we call Hinduism today, or even in the time of Swami Vivekanada did not exist at the time of the Buddha, which was the Vedic period. Vedic-Brahmanism was heavily influenced by older Sramanic schools and later on by newer ones like Buddhism and Jainism. We find in the ancient  Brihadaranyak Upanishad, Gargi (a female) challenging the  Brahmin Yagyavalkya. A critical study of the literature clearly shows that the mode of questioning that Gargi applied was very different from the type that many other  Brahmins used to question Yagyavalkya. For instance, all the  Brahmins used the same style of questioning in that they were simply asking the correct interpretation of some things found in the Vedas. But Gargi challenged the Vedas and thus she could have been a  Sramana, even if she were  Brahmin by caste. As Yagyavalkya was not able to answer her questions, he had to stop her by saying ‘Do not ask anymore or else your head will fall off’ (Brihadaranyak Upanishad 3.6.1).
It is these kinds of interaction between Sramanism and Brahmanism that produced the Upanishads and it is the interaction between Buddhism and Vedic Brahmanism (with some influence from Jainism too) that produced what is today called Hinduism. It is in the Upanishadic period that theories identifiable with Shramanas came in direct contact with  Brahmanical ideals (Padmanabh S. Jaini (2001),  Collected Papers on Buddhist Studies , Motilal Banarsidass Publications, p. 47).
According to  Ananda Guruge, a renowned Buddhist leader, the  Sramana movement impacted Vedic education through the Upanishads, with debate and discussion replacing parrot-like repetition of the Vedas (Ananda W.P.Guruge (2005), Buddhist Answers to Current Issues, Author House, p. 119). Therefore,  it is not a reformation but a shift in paradigm. Even if the Vedic paradigm was older, they are still different from one another. However, whether the Vedic paradigm is really older than the  Sramana paradigm is questionable. After all, even though Buddhism began with Shakyamuni, Sramanism is much older. According to the findings of the Indus Valley civilization (3000-2000 B.C.), Sramanism existed in the Indian sub-continent even before Brahmanism entered the region and the Buddha himself has clearly said that there were many Buddhas before him.
It is the purpose of this paper to show how Brahmanismor its offshoot Hinduism and Buddhism are built on two totally different paradigms, even though they share the same language and cultural matrix. It is this sharing of the same language and cultural matrix that has fooled many scholars, especially Hindu biased scholars, who have failed to understand these are two completely different paradigms with very little in common, except the same cultural background, and their language, metaphor, analogy, and words. But as we shall see, the same analogies express two different conceptual structures (paradigms).
I would like to clarify that this is a differentiation between the two paradigms and not a denigration of Hinduism or the Vedanta which are wonderful creations of humanity. It is a refutation of the outdated and baseless notion that Buddhism is a branch of Hinduism or a reformation or based on Hinduism et al and not a denigration of Hinduism. This kind of healthy refutation and rebuttal existed between Buddhism and Hinduism from the time of the Buddha till around the twelfth century when Buddhism collapsed in India after the Islamic invasion. According to the diary of one of the invaders Bakhtiar Kilji (1193 AD), the armed forces specifically targeted the Buddhist monasteries mistaking them to be military centers rather than academics.
Until then it was Buddhism that kept expanding throughout India and Asia. It is said that seventy five per cent of India was Buddhist. Here too, the general Hindu concept put forth by many Hindu scholars like Vivekananda et al that Hinduism took back Buddhism into its fold and that is how Buddhism vanished from India is totally misleading and historically unfounded (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: The Sages of India, volume 3, p. 265). Also, virtually all famous Hindu Vedantic scholars like Madhvacharya (1238-1317) interpreted Buddhism incorrectly. Madhvacharya states that ‘Madhyamiko vivartam akhilam, sunyasya ene jagat.’ That is ‘The Madhyamics believe that all this  Samsara is an illusion and the  Samsara/ jagat comes out of emptiness.’ (Sarva Darshan Sanghraha). Likewise, hundreds of Hindu scholars after him just assumed this was the true interpretation of the Madhyamic. They have used it either to refute the Madhyamic or to validate that the emptiness of the Madhyamic is just a negative way of stating the  Brahman out of which the universe comes out. However, the Hindu scholars have not had the opportunity to face real Buddhist refutation of their notions for a long time till now, mainly due to language barriers. As they say, the mice will play when the cat is away.
When we compare the  Advaita Vedanta, especially as interpreted by Shankara, and the  Madhyamika, whether it is the  Svatantric form of  Bhavya or  Prasangic form of Candrakirti, the sharing of the same language, culture and analogies, (while talking about two different paradigms), become obvious. I have chosen  Sankara Vedanta because of all sub paradigms within Hinduism, it is the  Sankara Vedanta that appears to come closest to Madhyamic Buddhism. Even Vivekananda seems to think the same with a slight Hinduistic twist as he mentions in his  Buddhism and Vedanta that the Vedanta philosophy is the foundation of Buddhism and everything else in India. However, what we call the Advaita philosophy of the modern school has great many conclusions for the Buddhists.
For instance, the Upanishads themselves are a mix of different concepts susceptible to many interpretations as have been made by various famous interpreters such as Ramanuja, Madhava, Vallabha, Bhaskara, Nimbarka and Yamuna. These are obviously so different from Buddhism that they do not warrant a comparison . The  Shaivadvaita of Kashmir Shaivism also is similar to Sankara Vedanta in many ways. Even though there are fine differences, which we cannot go into here, however, they too use similar words to point at different paradigms.
Because the same language structure (be it  Pali or  Sanskrit) and the same analogies are used to express two different paradigms, many  Vedantins or scholars of Buddhism with Vedantic backgrounds have been fooled into thinking Buddhist Madhyamika is a re-interpretation of Hindu Vedanta. For example, many like Vinova Bhave the guru revered by the late Prime minister of India Indira Gandhi, perceive Buddhism as a negative way to attain the same goal ( via negativa), whereas Hindu Vedanta is the positive way ( via positiva). Likes of Bhave and others argue that the Buddhists use negation, whereas the Vedantis use affirmation and therefore the  Shunyata of Buddhism is a negative way of talking about the  Brahman of the Vedanta.
The issue here is not via negative or positive, but rather approaching two different goals based on two different paradigms, or addressing two diametrically opposed answers to the burning issue of mankind developed from diametrically opposed paradigms. In fact, the Buddha, after engaging in long years of  Brahmanic as well as  Sramanic meditations, found the concept of  Brahman (an ultimately real, unchanging, eternal substratum [ paramartha satta] to this ephemeral transient world) inadequate to solve the basic issue of humanity, i.e., suffering ( dukkha ). He questioned the very existence of such an eternal substratum and also declared that a search for such an imagined  Brahman ( parikalpita atman) was a form of escapism and, therefore, not really spiritual but “Spiritual Materialism”.
Since the concept of  Brahman, the truly existent ( paramartha satta) is the very foundation of Hinduism (as a matter of fact some form of an eternal ultimate reality whether it is called God or Nature is the basis of all other religious systems). When Buddhism denies such an ultimate reality ( paramartha satta) in any form, it cuts at the very jugular veins of Hinduism and all other Theistic systems. Therefore, it cannot be ontologically, epistemologically, and soteriologically said that Buddhism reforms Hinduism.
The affirmation of a ground  (asraya) which is really existent ( paramartha satta) and the denial that no such existent ground  (satta) can be found anywhere, within or without, immanent or transcendent, are two diametrically opposed paradigms, not simply variation or reformations of each other. The Webster Dictionarydefines re-form as ‘to amend or improve by change of form or removal of faults or abuse.’ The example I have given above of an eternal base without which Hinduism in its own language would be called atheistic  (Nastik). Therefore, the denial (without any implied affirmation  prasajya pratisheda) of such an eternally existing unchanging base by Buddhism cannot be said to be a reformation, but a  deconstruction of the very roots of the Hindu thesis. That is why Buddhism is not a reformation of Hinduism but a paradigm shift from the foundations on which Hinduism is based.
Hindu scholastic polemics assert that without an ultimate eternal reality ( pramartha satta), there can be no liberation from the changing, transient  Samsara which is an illusion Therefore, even though the Buddha denied such an ultimate reality, he could have meant only conceptually really existing reality/relative reality, not the eternal ultimate reality, which is beyond concepts. Otherwise there cannot be liberation. The fault with this kind of thinking is that it is measuring the thesis of the Buddha (which is no thesis), or interpreting the Buddha from within the Hindu paradigm, within which, an eternal ultimate reality ( paramartha satta) is a necessity for soteriological purpose, i.e., for liberation as  Samsara itself is merely an illusion ( maya) and cannot liberate us. However the Buddha saw this as a necessary dead-end. Since according to the Buddha, there is no  Brahman, such a concept being merely an acquired fabrication ( parikalpana) learned from wrong ( mithya ) scriptures, hankering after or searching for such a  Brahman leads nowhere, let alone liberation. Hence, the Buddhist paradigm if understood correctly, does not require an eternally existing something or other for liberation.
In Buddhism liberation is not about realizing such a ground but rather letting go of all grounds, i.e., realizing the “groundlessness” of  Samsara which is not really an illusion per se but “like an illusion” ( mayavat). As Nagarjuna puts it aptly in his Magnum Opus,  Mulamadhyamakakarika ‘sarva drishti prahanaya yah saddharmam adeshayet.’ That is ‘the Buddha taught out of compassion the true dharma for the sake of letting go of all views.’ (Drishti Parikshya, Investigation of view, chapter 27 verse 30). In the Theravadin  Majjhima NikayaDighanakha Sutta and the  Aggivacchagotta Sutta , the Buddha himself says that ‘all others leave one view only to hold on to another view but the Tathagata let goes all view and does not grasp to any other view.’ The  Phenopindopama Sutra states very clearly that the five aggregates (  pancha skandha), which is the  Samsara, is like a bubble, like foam, like an illusion. It does not say the five aggregates are an illusion but “like an illusion”. In fact, according to Buddhism, holding on to any ground is ignorance and is called innate clinging to the concept of a truly existing self ( sahaja atman graha).
Therefore, in the Buddhist paradigm, it is not only ‘not necessary’ to have an eternal ground for liberation, but in fact, the belief in such a ground itself is part of the dynamics of ignorance. We now move to another major difference within the two paradigms.
In Hinduism liberation occurs when this illusory  Samsara is completely relinquished and it vanishes; what remains is the eternal  Brahman, which is the same as liberation. Since the thesis is that  Samsara is merely an illusion, when it vanishes through knowledge ( jnana) only an eternally existing self called the  Brahman remains and if there were no eternal  Brahman remaining, it would call for a disaster. So in the Hindu paradigm (or, according to Buddhism, all paradigms based on ignorance), an eternal unchanging, independent, really existing substratum/ base (Skt:  AshrayaZhi in Tibetan) or the ‘great substance’( Mahavastu) is a necessity for liberation, otherwise one would fall into Nihilism. But since the Buddhist paradigm is totally different, the question posed by Hindu scholars: how can there be liberation if a  Brahman or the First Cause does not remain after the illusory  Samsara vanishes into wisdom/enlightenment ( jnana/yeshe) is not relevant within the Buddhist paradigm and does not hold any ground in its enlightenment,  Bodhi or  Nirvana. The fact that all Dharmas are interdependently originated ( pratityasamutpanna) implies that there can be no First Cause/Creator God unless these too can arise interdependently. This is why many Hindu scholars from ancient times considered Buddhism as a nihilistic system ( nastika), which actually means non-believer.
First of all, to the Buddha and Nagarjuna,  Samsara is not an illusion/maya but like an illusion ( mayavat) as the  Phenopindopama Sutta found in both Theravadin, Mulasarvastivadin and Mayahayana texts make it clear. To Sankara, the  Samsara is an illusion as his famous verse quoted from the  Puranas state ‘ Brahman satyam jagan mithya’, which means ‘ Brahman is the truth meaning really existing ( Sat) and the  jagat/Samsara is false/illusion.’ According to the rest of the verse, this is the main essence of the thousands of Hindu scriptures described in half a verse: ‘Shlokardhena pravachhyami yaduktam grantha kotibhi’. Also, Sankara repeatedly calls the  Samsara illusion ( maya) in his commentaries of the  Prasthan Trayi (The three pillars of Vedanta –viz- The  Brahman Sutra, the eleven or so main Upanishads and the Bhagavat Gita). There is a  quantum leap in the meaning of these two statements. If  Samsara is merely an illusion, it cannot be the basis for liberation as it does not exist at all in any way whatsoever. How can a barren woman’s son or a vixen’s horn be the basis of our liberation when there is no such thing?
However, if it is interdependently arising and appears like an illusion, it can become the source of our liberation. Secondly, because it is only “like an illusion”, i.e., interdependently arising like all illusions, it does not and cannot vanish. So,  Nirvana does not arisewhen  Samsara vanishes like mist and the  Brahman arises like a sun out of the mist, but rather when seeing that the true nature of  Samsara is itself  Nirvana. That is,  Samsara transforms into  Nirvana as the Hevajra Tantra 2.4.38 clearly states ‘ami dharmas tu  Nirvana mohat  Samsararupina’, meaning ‘all Dharmas/phenomena ( Samsara) are essentially  Nirvana but because of delusion they appear as  Samsara.’ It further mentions that ‘amudah  Samsaran shuddhaya samsaro nirvrittayate’, that is ‘the undeluded one functions in the world purifying the  Samsara into  Nirvana.’ Whilst  Brahman and  Samsara are two different entities: one real, the other unreal; one existing ( Sat) and the other non- existing ( asat). Just like  Samsara being superimposed on the  Brahman like a snake on a rope, the two can never be one. But,  Samsara and  Nirvana in Mahayana Buddhism are one and not two separate things.
Nirvana is the nature of  Samsara or in Nagarjuna’s words  Shunyata is the nature of  Samsara. In the  Mulamadhyamaka Karika, chapter twenty five verses 19-20, Nagarjuna writes there is absolutely no difference between  Samsara and  Nirvana and the same concept is also found in the Hevajra Tantra section two, chapter four, verse 38, as mentioned earlier ‘ami dharmas tu  Nirvana mohat  Samsara rupina’, that is all these Dharmas ( Samsara) are  Nirvana but because of delusion ( moha) they appear as  Samsara. It is the realization of the nature of  Samsara as empty which cuts at the very root of ignorance and results in knowledge not of another thing beyond  Samsara but of the way  Samsara itself actually exists ( vastusthiti), knowledge of  Tathata (“as it-is-ness”) the  Yathabhuta (“as it-really-is”) of  Samsara itself. It is this knowledge that liberates from the wrong conceptual and conditioned experience of  Samsara to the unconditioned “experience” of  Samsara just as it is. That is what is meant by the indivisibility of  Samsara and  Nirvana (Skt.:  Samsara Nirvana Abhinnata, Tib.:  Khor De Yer Me).
Nirvana being the Mind ( Tathagatagarbha), in the context of  Mahasandhi/Dzogchen,  Mahamudra/Chyagchen and  Anuttara Tantra, Samsara could be substituted by the dualistic mind. The Hevajra Tantra 2.4.77 states ‘chittam eva hi sambuddho, na buddho’nyatra darshita’ meaning ‘mind itself is perfectly enlightened and nowhere else is the enlightened one to be perceived.’ Krisnacharya comments in his  Yogaratnamala Commentary, ‘chittam evahi bodhichittam’ meaning the ‘ Chitta means the  Bodhichitta (Enlightened Mind).’ Ratnakarashanti also comments on the verse in his commentary called the  Muktavali, stating ‘chittameva bodhih satvanam tatha pragapi tesham tesham chittasamataya’ meaning ‘by mind itself is meant the mind of enlightened beings and also before enlightenment because the mind is the same/similar. The Hindu paradigm is world denying, affirming the  Brahman .The Brihadaryanaka Upanishad 2.4.12 says ‘na pretyasangyastityare’ that is ‘there is no more consciousness of the particular’ and Sankaracharya in his commentary of this verse further states ‘…. how can the knower of  Brahman who is established in his nature as pure awareness ( vigyanaghana) possibly have any such particular consciousness…..even when the man is in the body, particular consciousness ( Samsara) is impossible at times, as in deep sleep, so how can it ever exist in a man who has been absolutely freed from the body and organ ( Samsara).’
The commentaries on Yogavasitha mentions that a realized yogi loses all consciousness of the external world and is immersed in the  Brahman so much so that the yogi is incapable of looking after him/herself and has to be fed by other people. According to the Hindu  Avadhuta system, an avadhuta is someone who has lost all contact with this world and lives in the inner world could be called an eccentric who does not care anymore for social norms. Whereas, the Buddhist meaning of  Avadhuta is closely related to  kusulipa or  chodpa, which means a person who practices offering him/herself including the body (the most cherished aspect of a person) to all sentient beings through special meditational practices called  chod/chedan or Kusuli Yoga.
The Mahayana Buddhist paradigm does not deny the world; it only rectifies our wrong vision ( mithya dristi) of the world. Therefore, of what use would a  Bodhisattva who has lost all contact with this  Samsara be to anybody? And how could any  Bodhicharya/Bodhisattva activity be conducted in such a state? In fact, discriminating knowledge ( pratyavekshyana gyana) of the particular ( pratya) is part of the Bodhisatva’s enlightenment. The Buddha never lost contact with the “here and now” ( Samsara) except when he was in samadhis. The Mahayana does not give importance toa dream beyond or a separate transcendence from  Samsara. According to Buddhism, such a dream is part of the dynamics of ignorance and to present such a dream would be to perpetuate ignorance. In Buddhism, any system or paradigm which propagates such an unproven and not provable dream as an eternal substance or ultimate reality, be it Hinduism or any other “ism”, is propagating spiritual materialism and not true spirituality. In contrast, in Hinduism such a  Brahman is the  Summum Bonum of its search goal, the peak of the Hindu thesis. The Hindu paradigm would collapse without it. Since Buddhism denies this, it cannot be honestly said that the Buddha merely meant to reform Hinduism. As I have repeatedly said, it is a totally different paradigm. Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism are all variations of the same paradigm, although Jainism is non theistic like Buddhism it is also based on the  Atman-Brahman concept or an ultimately truly existing self/reality. So truly speaking, you could speak of them as reformations of each other. But Buddhism has a totally different paradigm from any of these, not merely from Vedic- Hinduism. This leads us naturally to the concept of the two truths ( satya dvaya).
Both Hindu Vedanta and Madhyamika Buddhism (and for that matter all forms of Buddhism), use the above concept to clarify its paradigm. But again the same words point at two different paradigms. First of all, the concept of the two truths clearly stated in Buddhism, that the Buddha himself used, penetrated Hinduism only after Shankaracharya (seventh/eight century) Even though Patanjali had appropriated a lot of Buddhist concepts and words in his Patanjala Sutra, he did not speak about the two truths per se. According to Surendra Nath Dasgupta the first three main chapters of the Patanjala Sutra which deals mainly with meditation, is just a Hinduized rehashing of Buddhist meditational concepts and the last chapter where Buddhism is criticized is the work of somebody else who wrote it later as the style is different (A History of Indian Philosophy, vol 1.7.pp.229-30).
However, even though Sankara copied these words from Buddhism and also copied many other conceptual words from Nagarjuna to elucidate his Vedantic paradigm (that is why he was accused of being a crypto-Buddhist [ Prachhanna Bauddha] by Bhaskaracharya), the meaning of the paradigm that he tried to clarify using the same words is different. So he was never really a crypto Buddhist but rather a virulent critique of Buddhism. In his Sariraka Bhasya (  BrahmanSutra 2.2.32) he has called the Buddha ‘an incoherent babbler who showed his malevolence towards all creatures acting under delusion…giving contradictory views.’ So much for those western disciples and some western Buddhists who claim that the Sankara Vedanta/Hinduism and the Madhyamic/Buddhism are essentially the same!
In many places these conceptual wordings and analogies are forced to produce the meaning that is required for the Vedantic paradigm. In the Vedantic context, the relative truth ( Vyavahar Satya or Samvritti Satya in Buddhism) is that this  Samsara is an illusion and the ultimate truth (  paramartha satya) is that there is an ultimately existing thing ( paramartha satta) transcending/immanent in this world. Therefore, the relative truth will vanish like an illusion and both the transcendent and immanent  Brahman (the ultimate truth/paramartha satta) will appear as the only truth, hence the world/ Samsara being false: ‘ Brahman satyam jaggan mithya’ that is ‘ Brahman is really existing and the  Samsara is an illusion.’
To sum it up, the Vedantic ultimate truth is the existence of an ultimate existence or ultimate reality called  Atman-Brahman. Reality here is used as something which exists ( satta/ sat). Sri Sankaracharya defines  Sat or real existence in his  Tatva Bodha as that which remains the same and unchanged in all the three times (kala trya api tishtatiti). The three times means the past, present and the future. Thus the ultimate reality has to remain unchanged and that reality is the ultimate truth.
However, the Buddhist ultimate truth is the absence of any such  satta, i.e., and ultimately existing thing or ultimate reality. The significance of  Shunyata is the absence of any real, independent, unchanging existence ( svabhava) and that fact is the ultimate truth of Buddhism, which is diametrically opposite of the ultimate truth of the Hindu  Atman-Brahman. So  Shunyata or emptiness can never be  via negativa, a negative way of describing the  Atman-Brahman of Hinduism as Vinoba Bhave and such scholars would have us believe. The meaning of  Shunyata found in Sutra, Tantra, Dzogchen and Mahamudra is the same and officially accepted by all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism (except those who adhere to the Shentong view) and that isthe Prasangic emptiness of Chandrakirti, i.e., the unfindability of any true existence or simply unfindability ( unupalabdhi).
Some writers of Dzogchen and Mahamudra or Tantra think that the emptiness of Nagarjuna is different from the emptiness found in these systems, but such an idea contradicts the view presented by Acharya Tripitaka Kamala in his  Vinaya Pramod and Advaya Vajra in his  Advaya Vajra Sanghraha. Both authors state (an oft quoted verse in Tibetan texts too) that ‘Ekartha tve apya asammohad bahu upaya duskarad,’ meaning ‘even though the view/goal of Tantra and Sutra are the same Tantra is special in having many skillful means.’ Since the goal of sutra is the non dual realization of emptiness which is not different from luminosity (as per the  Pragyamaramita Sutras) and the emptiness of Sutra is as elucidated by Nagarjuna and his sons, the emptiness of Tantra and Dzogchen has to be the same emptiness.
Therefore, to claim that the Emptiness of the Dzogchen and Tantra are different from the emptiness found in the Sutra is false. The Hevajra Tantra 2.5.67 itself states very clear that ‘this is that great bliss where there is neither ‘no-self’ ( anatman/sunyata) nor other’ (  ehu so paramamahasuha nau para nau appana). So it is not only empty of others but also of the self ( svabhava). However, I would like to ask them whether their emptiness is findable or unfindable? Whether the significance of emptiness in these systems point towards the ‘unfindability’ that is free from the four extremes ( tetralemma) or ‘no seeing’ as it could also be expressed? Also some Shentong scholars (by Shentongpas I mean the Dolpopa Shentongpas specifically, who seem to have abandoned the Prasangic emptiness and not those who have not abandoned the emptiness, like the Minling, Terchen and Shakya Chogden) seem to imply that the Shentong system is talking about a different emptiness. They say that the Buddha nature is not empty of qualities therefore, Buddha nature is not merely empty, it also has qualities.
First of all the whole statement is irrelevant as the issue is not about qualities or the Buddha nature being empty of quality or not. The Buddha nature is empty of “real existence” ( svabhava). Because it is empty of real existence and because it is  nishwabhava or “non-real-existent” (another name for emptiness), it has qualities. As Arya Nagarjuna has said in the Mulamadhyamikakarika ‘all things are possible (including qualities) because they are empty.’ The Samadhiraj sutra says ‘know all things to be like this: a mirage, a cloud castle, a dream, an apparition, without essence (meaning empty) but with qualities that can be seen.’ The Theravadin Majjhima Nikaya 1.297 and Samyutta Nikaya IV 296-97 further state ‘sunnam idam attena va attaniyena va’, meaning ‘this  Samsara is empty of self or anything pertaining to self.’ Therefore, the mind is an integral part of what Buddhism calls  Samsara/world and this mind is Buddha ( Tathagatagarbha), which is also empty in the same way and not in some other way.
If the Buddha nature ( Tathagatagarbha/Sugatagarbha) was really existing ( sat) and not empty ( nishwabhava), in the Sutra sense, like the  Brahman of the Hindus, then the same fault that ancient Buddhist masters blamed on the Hindu  Atman-Brahman would boomerang on these Buddhists too. An unchanging really existing thing cannot function in any way as function implies change (Tatva Sanghraha, chapter 7, section E, text 332-335 of Shantarakshita commentary by Kamalashila). Therefore, how can such a  Tathagatagarbha that is unchanging have any qualities as it cannot function in any way. If it is answered that the function of the Buddha’s qualities are inconceivable ( acintya/sam gyi mikhyab), a further question arises that is, how can a conceivable  Tathagatagarbha (as to say it exists is to bring it down to the level of conception and thus conceivable) have inconceivable qualities? For the Tathagarbha to have inconceivable qualities, it would also have to be inconceivable. We now come to the point of Nagarjuna that the  Tathagarbha must also be free from the four extremes ( tetralemma) which means empty of real existence. Therefore the whole  Shentong/Rangtong issue is superfluous. And if the  Tathagarbha becomes really existing then Buddhism loses its main thesis that differentiated it from Hinduism from its very inception.
We find even Hindu scholars as early as 300 AD like Vatsayana through Bharahar Sutra ( Sutta) trying to prove that the Buddha actually taught the  Atman but the Buddhists did not understand. This statement implies that there were no Buddhists who understood the Buddha. It further implies that until the time of Vatsayana, Buddhists did not agree with the  Atman theory. However, in most kinds of Shentong (except the Dolpopa Shentong), Buddha nature is also empty and emptiness means unfindable that is free from the four extremes as per Nagarjuna-Chandrakirti.
In the tradition of the Mahasiddha Lord of Yogins ( Yogeshwar) Virupad, who is one of the famous eighty four Mahasiddhas as well as a great scholar and an abbot ( Upadhyaya/Khenpo) of Vikramashila; luminosity ( prabhashwar), clarity or pure awareness is the store house consciousness ( alaya vigyana) which is the relative truth and the  Tathagarbha is emptiness and the ultimate truth. The unity of the two is the unity of Samsara and  Nirvana which is inexpressible and experienced only by Aryas ( Aryasamahita), those who have attained the  Bhumis. In short, the unfindability of any true existence is the ultimate truth ( paramartha satya) in Buddhism, and is diametrically opposed to the concept of a truly existing thing called  Brahman, the ultimate truth in Hinduism.
There is also another problem with a really existing  Tathagatagarbha that is not empty. If it is “really existing” then it cannot be indivisible with  Samsara which is empty. Then the mind ( Chitta) cannot be a Buddha and even worse is that the whole of Buddhist Tantra/Vajrayana would be subverted, as  Samsara which is empty cannot be transformed into  Nirvana, which according to the Shentong theory is not empty. The whole of Buddhist Tantra is based on the principle of transformation and that is why it is called the way of transformation ( parinati marga). Vajrayana would become redundant and Sankara Vedanta would be the true Buddhist Way . It is said in the Astasahasrika Pragyaparamita Sutra ( The 8000 Verse Pragyaparamita)
Sachennirvanādapi kaschid dharmo visistatara syat tamapyaham mayopamam badāmi meaning If there’s a dharma above nirvana that too I say is like an illusion and this is quoted by Pragyakarmati in his Panjika( commentary) of the chapter nine verse eight of the Bodhicharyavatara
Now let’s examine relative truth ( samvritti satya). In Hinduism, the relative truth is the fact that this world is an illusion ( maya), which has no existence. As Sankara points out ‘Rajjau sarpa bhramana aropa tadvat  Brahmani jagat aropa.’ Meaning ‘just as the snake is imputed on the rope so too is the  Samsara imputed upon the  Brahman.’ This means that the  Samsara is entirely false, an illusion, like the snake on the rope. However, in Buddhism,  Samsara is interdependently arising. According to Tsong Khapa it has relative existence (  samvritti satta), or it appears conventionally and according to Gorampa Senge and Mipham, it appears like an illusion ( mayavat). Like all illusions, it appears interdependently based on various causes and conditions ( hetu pratyaya). It may be like an illusion but it is the only thing we have; there is nothing behind it or beyond it, which can be called an ultimate thing or reality. It does not have a base or ground that is “really existing”, like the  Brahman, as it is groundless, meaning empty. The ultimate ‘reality’, truth or fact, in the Buddhist sense, is the mode of existence of this illusion – like  Samsara, i.e., “empty of real existence” ( nihsvabhava).
So here too we can find two different parameters for two different paradigms using similar words. Now let us investigate some of the Sanskrit words shared by both paradigms. One word that has created great confusion is “non- dualism”. First of all, Hindu Vedanta is  Advaita, and Madhyamika,  Advaya. Even though they are sometimes used interchangeably by both systems, their meanings are, as used in the two paradigms, different. In Hindu Vedanta, “non dualism” ( advaita) means “one without a second” ( dvitiyam nasti) as interpreted by Sankara  Chandogya Upnishad .Also Chandogya 6.2.1 states very clearly ‘Sad eva….Asid ekam eva advitiyam,’ that is ‘the one and only really existent ( sat), the only one, one without a second.’ The Chandogya Upanishad predates the Buddha by a couple of centuries- many scholars place it between 800BC and 1200BC. What does this mean? That there is only  Brahman, which really exists and nothing else really exists. In other words, the world does not exist at all, it is only an illusion. The true English word for this is “Monism”, which according to the Webster Dictionary is ‘the view that there is only one kind of ultimate substance.’ Swami Vivekanda himself uses the exact word “Monism” for his Advaita Vedanta (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 3, Buddhistic India). Since, as we have already seen, there isn’t any kind of ultimate substance according to the Madhyamika Buddhism, the meaning of  advaya (non- dualism) cannot be like in Hinduism.
The Madhyamika scriptures very clearly define  Advaya as ‘ dvaya anta mukta’, that is ‘free from the two extremes’ of existing and non-existing. The extremes are the extreme of eternalism ( saswatanta) to which the Hindu Vedantic  Atman-Brahman fall (the Buddhist  Tathagatagarbha is not a synonym for the Hindu  Atman-Brahman and should not fall into this category. Therefore it should not be interpreted as really existing ( sat). On the contrary according to the  Pragyaparamita Sutras and in the interpretation of the Mahasiddha Yogeshwar Virupa,  Tathagatagarbha is a synonym for emptiness), and Nihilism ( ucchedanta) into which many materialistic systems like  Charvak fall. But it goes deeper. Non dual knowledge ( advaya jnana) is the state of mind which is soteriologically free from grasping at the two extremes of knowing in terms of “is” and “is not” and is itself ontologically free from “existing” or “non existing” (which is the same as saying it is empty). Because it is non conceptual ( avikalpa), free from conceptual proliferation ( nisprapancha), beyond thoughts (  acintya), inexpressible ( unabhilapya) and free from the four extremes ( chatuskoti vinirmukta), it is the true meaning of emptiness.
Hence,to say that the  Tathagarbha exists is to make it conceivable, expressible and within the domain of concepts. As the inimitable Sakya Pandita says, that would be like bringing the  Tathagarbha down to conceptual proliferation ( prapancha). Or, in the context of this essay, it is to make the  Tathagarbha just another synonym for the Hindu  Atman-Brahman which it is not. In the Mulamadhyamaka Karika, Nagarjuna very clearly mentions ‘tathagato nisvabhavo….’ that is ‘the  Tathagata is empty ( nisvabhava) of real existence’ (Mulamadhyamaka Karika, Tathagata Parikshya, chapter 22, verse 16). If the  Tathagata is empty ( nisvabhava), how can the  Tathagatagarbha be really existing like the  Brahman of the Hindu?
Advaita jnana is however the knowledge of the one and only truly existing substance or reality called  Brahman in Hinduism. It could also be called by any other name. Even if the  Brahman is defined as beyond “is” and “is not”, as in the Yogavasistha and the Astavakra Gita and the Avadhuta Gita, it is only a another way of saying that there is an ultimate reality that really exists, i.e., it has an ultimately real existence ( paramartha satta/ Brahman), which is beyond concepts of existing and non existing. Therefore, it still falls within eternalism (  saswatvada), conceptual proliferation ( prapanca), conceivable ( cintya) and verbal thinking ( vikalpa). It is difficult to see how one can say it is the ultimate existence which exists and it is beyond all concepts and thoughts ( avikalpa) in the same breath as ‘existence’ is a concept ( vikalpa).
There is also the use of “free from the existence and non existence/ free from the two extremes or two ends ( dwaya anta mukta)” in Buddhism, and “beyond ( para) existence and non existence or without existence and non existence (as the Avhaduta Gita says without existence and non existence (  bhava abhava vivarjita). “Beyond” or “without/excluding” implies a third something which is neither; but “free” does not necessarily imply a third something which is neither.
Some Shentongpas define the  Tathagatagarbha exactly like the  Brahman of the Vedanta, without realizing it and even claim it as a higher meditator’s view which is not accessible to lower class logicians. Well this type of view has two faults:
First, it implies a kind of hubris that these Shentonpas are some kind of higher logicians or meditators who do not require the lower logic, and such hubris is non Buddhist in tone and nature. The Buddha very clearly said that the panditas and meditators should go hand in hand and respect each other in a  Sutta of the Theravadin  Anguttara Nikaya. The Lord of the tenth Bhumi Vajragarbha in his Satasahasrika Hevajratika (a commentary on the Hevajra Tantra 1.51) mentions very clearly ‘Adau vikalpadheto savikalpam sunyata phalam bhavet. Ante cha sarvabauddhanam akalpatah sunyata phalam’, that is ‘in the beginning, the conceptual cause brings about the fruition of conceptual emptiness and finally, for all Buddhists, the fruition will be non conceptual emptiness.’
Second, this implies that these meditators believe that the lower logicians do not understand the higher view and only they understand it. Well, Milarepa, Phagpa Rimpoche, Sakya Pandita, Marpa of Tibet and Sarahapa, Virupa and many others of India were great meditators and evidently they did not understand their higher meditators’ view otherwise they would have subscribed to it. It must be noted that even Karma Kagyu Shentongpas admit that Milarepa and Marpa were not Shentongpas.
In fact, according to Dolpopa the grand patriarch of Shentong, nobody before him got it right, implying that they were all inferior logicians who didn’t get the Shentong view. This would implicate all the Aryas of India too. But the Dohas of the Mahasiddhas like Sarahapa and Virupa and many others clearly show that they didn’t really get this Shentong view as they never left the  unfindable sunyata in their dohas. They never left emptiness ( Sunyata) and ‘like an illusion’ even for innate wisdom ( sahaja jnana) which is another name for the realization of the  Tathagatagarbha. In his  Yogaratnamala, a commentary on the Hevajra Tantra, the great Mahasiddha and Mahapandita Krishnacharya/Nagpopa (one of the eighty four Mahasiddhas) commented, ‘mahasukhalakshanam sarva dharma sunyatyeti… sarvabuddhadharmadhartvena mantra mahayane tvanu vrnyate,’ which means ‘the mantra-mahayana tradition describes the great bliss to be the emptiness of all dharmas which is the basis of the nature of all Buddhas.’(Yogaratnamala, Commentary on the Hevajra Tantra, 2.2, verses 30 -31).
Another of the eighty four Mahasiddhas, Ratnakarshanti, who was also a Mahapandita further commented on the same verse of the Hevajra Tantra in the  Muktavali,‘in this way after showing the importance of emptiness the importance of the great bliss ( mahasukha) is elaborated with the word Mahamudra ( evam sunyatayah khyatimuktva mahasukhakhyatimahah- mahamudretyadi). This means the emptiness which is the great bliss is the Mahamudra. So Mahamudra is emptiness ( sunyata) as in emptiness of all dharmas ( sarva dharma sunyateti). It is definitely not a different kind of emptiness. Since the Hevajra Tantra 2.8.10-11 clearly advises to study the Madhyamic (and the commentary called Satasahasrikahevajra Tika of the Hevajra Tantra by Vajragarbha who is  dasbhumishwar, meaning Lord of the tenth bhumi, says study Madhyamic and Pragyaparamita on this point) before embarking on the Tantras. Nowhere in the Tantra does it say that the emptiness here is different from the emptiness found in the Pragyamaramita or Madhyamic. We cannot claim that the emptiness of the Tantra is a different emptiness. Vajragarbha also says very clearly in the same commentery 1.86-88 that the  Chakrasamvara Tantra and the  Chatupitaka Tantra and the  Paramadibuddha Tantra and the  Mahasamvara Tantra all have the same intent and meaning.
Some Dzogchen (I mean Buddhist Dzogchen here and not the Bonpo Dzogchen) writers claim that Dzogchen is not Vajrayana but rather another “yana” by itself. Vajragarbha in his Satsahasrika-Hevajra Tika commentary 1.39 on the Hevajra Tantra clearly says ‘Shravakam Pratyekanchatra Mahayanam tritiyakam chaturtham nasti baudhanam panchamancha matam Mune,’ that is ‘that there are only three yanas taught by the Buddha not a fourth or fifth. They are the SravakayanaPratyekbuddhayana and  Mahayana. Now, Advaya Vajra says in his  Advaya Vajra Sanghrah that ‘Mahayana is of two kinds ( Mahayanam Dvividham), the Paramitayana and the Mantrayana ( Paramitanaya cha Mantranaya).’ Therefore, there is no third form of Mahayana as per Advaya Vajra and there is no other fourth or fifth “yana” either according to Vajragarbha.
Perhaps it is most apt now to talk about two other words used commonly by both paradigms:  nisprapanca (Tib.:  thro-me) and  avikalpa (Tib.:  tog-me).  Nisprapanca means “non-fabricated” or “without conceptual proliferation” and  avikalpa means “non-conceptual”. In the context of Hinduism, it is the  Brahman (the ultimate reality, the ultimate real, the ultimate existing) that is beyond concepts and non-fabricated. It also means a non- fabricated and non-conceptual knowledge of that  Brahman. When I use ultimate reality as a synonym for the  Brahman, I am using reality to mean something that exists per se (Webster’s Dictionary). I am aware that reality also connotes “fact” that is truth and such a meaning could be used in Buddhism to mean ultimate fact/truth. But as one of its connotations is “existing”, it is hazardous to use the word “ultimate reality” in any Buddhist context and it is always safer to use the word “ultimate truth” instead. Some English translations of Dzogchen and Mahamudra have used the words “ultimate reality” for Rigpa, co-emergent wisdom ( sahaja jnana),  Tathagatagarbha rather indiscriminately without the authors even realizing that the use of such lax wording brings them not only dangerously close to Vedantins of one form or the other, but also they are actually using Buddhist texts to validate the Vedantic thesis. If some of them object that their ultimate reality is empty, while the Hindu ultimate reality is not, the Hindu can ask, then how is it an ultimate reality in the sense of ultimate existence?
By definition, accepted by all systems within the Indian subcontinent (Buddhism/Hinduism/Jainism) something that really exists ( sat) cannot be empty and cannot be in a flux that is ever changing and cannot be interdependently originating. To avoid this confusion, it is safer and semantically closer to the Buddhist paradigm to use only “ultimate truth”. In fact there is no word for ultimate reality as in  paramartha satta (really existing thing) within Buddhism as this is a Hindu word but there is  paramartha satya (ultimate truth) fact within Buddhism. It is interesting to note that there is no Tibetan word for ultimate existence ( paramartha satta) in the way it is used for the  Brahman-Atman complex because such an  Atman (or whatever name you give it) is alien to Buddhism of all forms-  Sravakayana, Paramitayana and  Vajrayana.
Coming back to  nisprapanca and  avikalpa, in Buddhism, the first verse of Nagarjuna’s  Mulamadhyamikakarika clarifies that the “pratityasamutpada” or the “interdependent origination” is  nisprapanca and beyond concepts and it is the wisdom that realizes that this is  nisprapanca and  avikalpa. No Hindu Vedanta would agree that the  Brahman is either interdependent origination or interdependently originated. The same can be said for words like  acintya(“inconceivable”),  anupamya (“inexpressible”) or  apratistha (“non- established”), for which we need not to write separately.
This naturally leads us to three crucial words and concepts used in the two paradigms: Emptiness ( Shunyata), Interdependent Origination (  Pratityasamutpada) and  Brahman (the ultimate, infinite, eternal, unchanging, truly existing, non conceptual, unfabricated reality).
Many Hindu writers from the fifth and sixth century onwards until today have tried to show that the  Brahman and  Shunyata mean the same thing. The Yogavasistha (seventh/eighth century) has explicitly stated that the  BrahmanShunyata and  Chittamatra are the same reality (chapter 3-5 and 5-6). Modern authors like Dr.S.P. Radhakrishnan, Swami Vivekananda and Vinova Bhave have also tried to prove that they mean the same reality. However, Sankaracharya in his refutation of the Vigyanvada in his  Sariraka Bhasya of the  Brahman Sutra 2.2.27-31 implied that the  Chittamatra of the Vigyanvadin and our  Brahman are very similar but there is a difference. Their  Chitamatra is impermanent (as it is a continuum/santan/gyu) whereas our  Brahman is unchanging really existing thing ( paramartha satta). The Buddhist Guru Shantarakshita who played a key role in transferring Buddhism to Tibet, along with Guru Padmasambhava, says exactly the same thing from a Buddhist perspective in his  Tatvasanghraha: ‘there is a small fault with their non-dual awareness/cognition as opposed to ours due to the assertion of eternity of the non dual awareness/cognition. Their non dual awareness ( jnana/yeshe) is permanent, unchanging and an eternal thing whereas our Chittamatra is a changing eternal process or continuum (santaan) ( Tatvasanghraha, Chapter 8, section E, text 330-331- 335). Je Tsong Khapa mentions in his  Pratityasamutpada Stuti Subhasita Hridaya: ‘whatever is dependent on conditions is empty of real existence. A continuum ( santaan) is by nature a flow of interdependent origination ( hetu-phala prabha)’. This statement makes it clear that dependent origination and  Shunyata are two labels for the same condition or two sides of the same coin.
Therefore, I would like to ask these Hindu authors is  Brahman (which according to them is the same as  Shunyata), dependently originated or origination? Even here in the two words there is a difference. The  Brahman can never be a dependent origination because it is a really existing thing ( Mahavastu or the great thing). It can only be a dependently originated thing but I am sure no Hindu would like to say this of the unchanging eternal independent  Brahman. On the other hand, the significance of  Shunyata is “dependant origination”, or  nisvabhava (“non real existence”). The  Tathagatarbha,  Mahamudra and  Rigpa ( vidhya) cannot also be empty, but not without real existence ( nisvabhava). Such a definition of  Shunyata (as not  nisvabhava) would not only contradict with the entire Buddhist paradigm but would also force such so-called Buddhist writers to fall into the “all-embracing” arms of the Vedantin  Brahman. Something Brahmanism and later Hinduism have been trying to do since the inception of Buddhism and Buddhism has been refuting ever since too. An historical fact most Western Shentongpas seem to be blissfully unaware of to date.
Unfortunately when we analyze all the refutations of Buddhism by every single Hindu scholar modern or ancient, we find that they always distort the Buddhist teachings and then refute it, but not single one of them have got it right. After distorting the Buddhist view in various ways they claim either one of these things:
  • That Buddhism is the same as Hinduism only the way to the goal is different
  • Hinduism adopts the positive and Buddhism the negative to attain the same goal
  • Buddhism is nihilism, pure and simple
  • The Buddha never made it to the  Atman-Brahman realization as he stopped at the level of the  Buddhi (conceptual mind) and called it the ultimate and thus he is the Buddha (from  Buddhi)
  • The Buddha didn’t make it to God realization but stopped lower down in the ladder (Shivapuri Baba and others)
  • The Buddha was God (claimed by Vivekanda also) but the Buddhists didn’t recognize him
  • The Buddha actually came to teach the Vedas but his disciples degraded him and taught no-soul/Anatman and no God (The Complete Works: The Sages of India, Swami Vivekananda Volume 3, p. 264)
  • The Buddha was god incarnate (an incarnation of Vishnu) who come down to deceive the Asuras (whoever they are supposed to be in real time earth) and gave them the wrong teachings so that they would become less powerful than the Gods by following his teachings and abandoning the Vedic teachings which had made them more powerful than the gods (The Harivansa Purana,Vishnu Purana,Srimad Bhagavat Purana , Garuda Purana, Agni Purana, Naradiya Purana, Padma Purana, Linga Purana, Shivapuranam, Skandha Puranam, et al)
This clearly signals that they never really understood what Buddhism was all about and Swami Vivekananda states ‘Well, I do not understand his doctrine — we Hindus never understood it.’ (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Buddhistic India, volume 3, p. 529). This is what I mean, remaining fixed within the Hindu paradigm you just cannot understand Buddhism. Even Sankaracharya in his  Sariraka Bhasya of the  Brahman sutra 2.2.31 clearly shows that he never really understood what the Buddhists meant by emptiness and assumes it means a vacuous nothingness in his refutation and calls it nonsense as it is opposed to all valid means of knowledge ( sarva pramana vipratisiddha). This applies to Western students of Hinduism and Hindu swamis too who claim that Buddhism and Hinduism are essentially the same. Well, Sankaracharya, in contrast to to this in his Sariraka Bhasya 2.2.32, accuses the Buddha of teaching incoherent theories and malevolently deluding people and that the Buddhist view should be abjured in every way by all who desire the highest good. Likewise, Ramanujacharya and Madvacharya et al also think in the same way.
From the Buddhist side Shantarakshita in his refutation of the Vedantic non-dual awareness/cognition ( Advaita Jnana) in his  Tatvasangraha does not agree that the two are the same in essence (Tatvasangraha, Chapter 7, text 328-335). So do hundreds of Buddhist mahasiddhas, yogis and panditas. Denying the possibilities of other different paradigms by forcefully trying to subsume all paradigms within one’s own personal paradigm is not open mindedness, but rather a subtle kind of closed mindedness and a danger to the creativity of human kind. If  Rigpa and  Mahamudra are described without the correct emptiness, then words such as  MahamudraDzogchenRigpaTathagatagarbha are only new names given to the ancient concept of  Brahman as found in the Upanishads (some of which are 800 to 1200 years earlier than the Buddha himself). Such misconceptions of the  Tathagatagarbha do not come from Buddhists, but actually from Hindu  Brahmins in the garb of Buddhist scholar monks. The Buddha himself clearly said in the Sammyutta Nikaya Dhammachakkapabbattana Vaggo 56.11of the Theravadin school that he discovered a lost knowledge of former Buddhas that had not been heard before …. And the Nagara Sutta of the same Nikaya also says a similar thing.
Some Buddhist writers give lame excuse about meditative experience and theory being different. Well, the Buddha himself taught that the correct view (  samyag drishti) is an integral part of the Buddhist eightfold path and placed it as top priority even before meditation. I would like to reiterate that such a meditative experience, not based solidly in the correct Buddhist view ( samyag drishti/tawa) is not Buddhist but Hindu because it fits perfectly with the Hindu view/theory of reality. If meditative experiences are going to be different from the theory/view on which they are based, that would be tantamount to saying that the base has no relation to the path and fruit. Or, that path is one and the actual experience of the fruit (meditative experience) is another. At least the Hindu base-path-fruit is more consistent. They do not begin with non-real-existence and end up with some kind of subtle existence that is beyond existence and non existence.
The Buddhist meditation experience must coincide with its base (basic paradigm). Yes, there is a shift from conceptual to non-conceptual during meditation but that does not necessitate a shift from non-real existence to real existence from  nisvabhava to  svabhava. If reality is conceptually non-real existent it does not become real existence non-conceptually, but rather it should become the true Buddhist meditative experience of the non conceptual experience of the “non-real -existence”, or more correctly of the state free from the  tetralemma. Vajragarbha states exactly the same thing in his commentary  Satasahasrika Hevajratika on the Hevajra Tantra (quoted in the next paragraph). It may be added here that we can have a non conceptual ( avikalpa) experience of a sour lemon or a sweet candy. Just because these two experiences are non conceptual ( avikalpa), it does not mean that they are the same. But this is implied by most Hindu and New Age meditators who claim that since both the Vedanta or other Hindu meditations and the Mahayana meditations reach the non conceptual state, in essence they are the same. They assume that once it becomes non- conceptual, it is all the same, so they are essentially the same.
Some may say that non real existence is only a concept; however the same can be said of real existence. This concept is used to cut through the grasping of a real existence ( sahaja atman graham), which is nescience ( avidhya) to arrive at the freedom from the four extremes ( tetralemma ). The Lord of the tenth bhumi, Vajragarbha writes in his commentary to the Hevajra Tantra,  Satashasrika Hevajrapanjika ‘in the beginning, based on concepts, we attain conceptual emptiness and in the end the non-conceptual emptiness of all the Buddhists…..through which the supportless compassion (  analambana kuruna) of the  Sugata will arise’ (Satashasrika Hevajrapanjika, 1.51).
What purpose would a really existing  Tathagatagarbha have from a Buddhist point of view? Since  Brahman is real existence by itself and independent, it cannot be a synonym for  Shunyata. Some Shentong Buddhist writers who have not studied Hindu philosophy well enough and try to give invalid excuses by implying that the  Atman -Brahman of Hinduism is imagined, fabricated, whereas the Shentong  Tathagatagarbhas is non conceptual (e.g., Jamgon Kongtrul Lordo Thaye, gaining certainly about the view If one has read the Vedanta Shastra one finds that the  Atman (Self) of the Hindu is also free from mental elaboration ( nisprapancha/thodral) like the  Tathagatagarbha and non-conceptual  nirvikalpa. So the crux of the difference lies in emptiness ( anatman) not in non- elaboration, non conceptual and luminous awareness. The  Atman of the Vedanta is also not accessible to inferior logicians and not negated by logic because it is uncreated, unconditioned, self-existing, self-luminous and beyond concept (found all over the various Upanishads too numerous to enumerate here). So just stating that the Hindu Atman is fabricated and our  Tathagatagarbha is not, does not really solve anything. The Hindus also say exactly the same thing that their  Atman is a non-conceptual experiential thing whereas the emptiness of the Buddhist is a thing of the lower logician ( tarkikas). Actually,  kutarkikas means false logicians. The  Atman is what remains after everything else that is not  Atman has been negated (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad canto 6).
Lastly, the  Atman is not the ego (Skt.:  ahamkar, Tib.:  ngak dzin), which is what the Shentong logic negates. This view of the  Brahman-Atman as non dual, free from existing and non existing, non conceptual were not taught by Buddhist Mahasiddhas to Hindus, as some Western Buddhist scholars or Tibetan Masters seem to imagine. These views were already elaborated in the ancient Upanishads like the  Chandogya Upanishad, quoted above and the  Brihadaranyaka Upanishad where it states ‘Eko drastadvaito bhavati’ meaning ‘it is the one non dual awareness’ (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV, 3. 32). These Upanishads predate the Buddha himself and this seems to be a gross misunderstanding of the sophistication of Hinduism as a whole.
Another word that has confounded many Hindu swamis, is the “unborn” ( ajat or  anutpada) or “unproduced”. In the context of the Hindu Vedanta, it means that there is this ultimate reality called the  Brahman, which is unborn, that was never produced by anything or at any time and which means it always was and will always be the same unchanging substance. A thing, or super-thing, even a non- thing, that always existed and was never ever produced at any period in time, which is separate from this born, illusory  Samsara. Whereas, in the Buddhist context, it is the true nature of  Samsara itself which although relatively appears to be “born” ultimately is never born. Advayavajra in his  Tatvaratnavali states ‘the  Samsara is unborn says the Buddha.’ The Buddha Ekaputra Tantra (Tib.:  Sangye Tse tsig tantra) mentions that the base of Dzogchen is the  Samsara itself stirred from its depth. Since the  Samsara stirred from its depth is interdependently originated, i.e., not really originated or unborn, and since the  Samsara is only relatively an interdependently originated thing, but ultimately neither a thing, nor a non-thing ( bhava or abhava) that truly exists. The term “unborn” for  Brahman (which is definitely not  Samsara) and for  Samsara in Buddhism are diametrically opposed. The true meaning of unborn ( anutpada) is dependently originated (  pratityasamutpanna), which as mentioned before is the meaning of  nisvabhava (non real existence) or  Shunyata. None of these terms are a synonym for  Brahman or anything that has this kind of ultimate real existence, even if it were to be called  Tathagatagarbha. There is no acceptance of an ultimate existence in any Buddhist Sutra.
It is interesting that an exact word for  paramartha satta in Tibetan Buddhism is very rarely used. It shows how non-Buddhist the whole concept is. One has to differentiate between  satta (existence) and satya (truth), although they are so close and come from the same root in Sanskrit. Even in the Ratnagotra there is one single sentence (  Yad yatra tat tena shunyam iti samanupasyati yat punartravasistam bhavati tad sad ihasthiti yathabhutam prajanati): ‘whatever is not found, know that to be empty by that itself, if something remains, know that to exist as it is.’ This statement is straight out of the  Vaibhasika Sutras and the Theravada  Majjhima NikayaCullasunyata SuttaSunnatavagga and  Sautrantik Abhidharma Samuccaya and it seems to imply an affirming negative. First of all, this statement contradicts the rest of the Ratnagotravibhaga if it is taken as the ultimate meaning in the Sutra (as Shentongpas have done). Secondly, since it is a statement of the Vaibhasika School (stating than an ultimate unit of consciousness and matter consisting of eight atoms [ the asta kalapas] of matter and consciousness remain after everything else is negated), it cannot be superior to the Rangtong Madhyamika. Thirdly its interpretation as what remains is the ultimately existing  Tathagatagarbha contradicts not only the interpretation found in other Buddhist sutras as ‘itar etar Shunyata’ (emptiness of what is different from it), but also the Shentong interpretation of  Tathagatagarbha. It contradicts all the other definition of the  Tathagatagarbha found in the Ratnagotravibhaga itself. Finally, such an interpretation of an ultimately existing  Tathagatagarbha that remains after everything else has been negated is exactly the same as in the ancient Brihadaryanaka Upanishad Canto 6, the famous Neti, Neti (Not this, not this).
This brings us to the word  nitya, i.e., “eternal” or “permanent”. The Hindu use of the word  nitya for its ultimate existing reality, viz,  Brahman is  kutastha nitya, which means something remaining, or existing unchangingly eternal and something that is statically eternal. However, whenever the word  nitya is used for the ultimate truth in Buddhism, the Great Pandit Shantarakshita has made it very clear in his  Tatvasamgraha that the Buddhist  nitya is  parinami nitya, which is ‘changing, transforming, eternal’, in another words, “dynamically eternal”. The Buddhist  nitya is more accurately translated in English as “eternal continuum” rather than just “eternal”. Something that changes moment to moment but is Beginingless and endless .
I would like to remind some Western translators of Nyingma and Kagyu texts that it is either the view of Shantarakshita’s Svatantrik Madhyamika or the Prasangika that is given during the “Tri” instruction of Yeshe Lama as the correct view of Dzogchen. In the official Nyingmapa view,  tongpanyid/sunyata as elaborated by Chandrakirti is never abandoned as per Khenpo Rigzin Dorje, a close disciple of the greatest Dzogchen Yogi of the last and this century Chatral Rimpoche. Mipham Rimpoche of the nineteenth century is also very clear about this point. For further elaboration, please refer to my interview with Khenpo Rigzin Dorje in
Now finally I would like to show how the same analogies are used in the Vedantic Hinduism and Buddhist Madhyamika to illustrate a different thesis. The most famous analogy in both Vedanta and Madhyamka is that of the snake seen in the rope. In Vedanta, according to the famous Shankaric verse ‘rajjau sarpa bhramanaropa tadvat  Brahmani jagataropa’, the snake is imputed/superimposed upon a piece of rope just as  Samsara is imposed upon the  Brahman. The statement implies that only the rope or the  Brahman is real and the snake –  Samsara is unreal and does not exist at all. They are only illusions. If one studies the analogy one realizes that it is not an accurate analogy. The rope is not eternal like  Brahman. Furthermore the rope is not  asamskrita (unconditioned like  Brahman) so it is not a good example or proof of a truly existing independent  Brahman. It is a forced analogy. After all, it is a Buddhist analogy squeezed in order to give Vedantic meaning.
According to Buddhism the rope stands for  pratityasamutpanna samsara and is a good example because it is interdependently originated from pieces of jute and other materials. Whilst, the snake imputed upon it stands for real existence which is imposed on the interdependently existing rope appearance. Here it is the interdependently appearing rope that is the true mode of existence of the  Samsara and the snake is the imputed real existence on the rope (unlike the snake representing  Samsara in Vedanta). Hence, the snake is our ignorance imputing  Samsara as really existing instead of experiencing it as interdependently arisen. This interdependence or emptiness is  parinami nitya, i.e., an eternal continuum, and this is applicable to all phenomena.
Of course, this interdependence is the conventional truth whereas  nisvabhavata,( non real existence) which is synonymous to emptiness, is the ultimate truth in Madhyamika. Even though I have consistently used the word non real existence, it must be understood as a short hand for free from the  tetralemma, or free from the four extremes ( chatuskoti vinirmukta), which is the true meaning of  niswabhava. Whilst interdependence is itself conditioned, in reality it is unborn and empty and its true nature is unconditioned. But this is not an unconditioned reality like  Brahman, but rather an unconditioned truth, that implies that all things are in reality empty, unborn and uncreated.
Likewise the mirror reflection analogy is used to show that just like images which have no existence at all, appear and disappear on the permanent surface of the mirror. So too  Samsara, which is an illusory reflection on the mirror of  Brahman, appears on the surface of the  Brahman and disappears there. In Buddhism this metaphor is used to show that  Samsara is interdependently arising like the reflection on the mirror. The mirror is only one of the causes and conditions and no more real than the other causes and conditions for the appearance of the reflection of  Samsara. Here too the mirror is a very poor metaphor for the  Brahman, because it is interdependently arisen like the reflection on it. Actually, such analogies are good examples for  pratityasamutpada/ interdependent origination and not for some eternal  Brahman or any other eternally really existing thing. The mirror  Brahman metaphor is only forced. The same can be said of the analogies of the reflection of the moon on the pond and rainbow in the sky.
In conclusion, I would like to sum it up by stating that Buddhism (especially Mahayana/Vajrayana) is not a reformulation of Hinduism or a negative way of expressing what Hinduism has formulated positively. Hinduism and Buddhism share a common cultural matrix and therefore tend to use the same or similar words. Even though they share certain concepts like karma and re-incarnation, their interpretations differ. Hindu concepts of karma and reincarnation tend to be rather linear, whereas the Buddhist concept is linked with  pratityasamutpada. The Theravada concept of  pratityasamutpada is also rather linear compared to the Mahayana/Vajrayana concept, which is more non-linear, multi-dimensional, multi-leveled, interdependent and inter-latched. However, all similarities to Hinduism end there. The  Shunyata of the Buddha, Nagarjuna and Candrakirti is by no means a negative way of describing the  Brahman of the Upanishad, Samkara and Vidhyaranya groups.
I would like to dedicate this article for the long lives of Ven. H. E. Urgyen Tulku, His Eminence Chobgye Trichen, His Holiness Sakya Trizin and Ven. Karma Thinley Rinpoche and to the 17th century Siddha Vajracharya Surat Vajra of Nepal, Tache Baha. May his lineage be re-instated again.

Further reference:

This article was first published on 25th December 1989. It was revised and annotated on 25th December 2012.