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Pujya Dr. K.C. Varadachari - Volume -10




What is it that made Buddhism possible in India? Could it be held that it was a reaction against the Vedic Upanishad cults that prevailed? Is it a new way of life and a new philosophy that helped the resurgence of the miserable man of the period? Is it only an ethical doctrine since it speaks of dharma as the path of ascent and wayfaring in this world? Several answers have been given.

Our modern interest in India should be traced not so much to the resurgence of the Buddha spirit in our people. It is of course not the first time that Buddhism appealed to the people of India. Like other views of life (darsanas), Buddhism reveals the basic fundamental aim of man to see life from the point of view of world misery and points out that the way to freedom from misery is to attain a state of nirvana (freedom from all vana or movement of the desires which have become centralised around the focus of the ego). Again and again this call to the renunciation of the ego, empirical ego being the only concrete ego that we know of, has been delivered. Whilst the Upanishads, a profound sense went deeper psychologically and postulated a super ego, an ego that is metaphysically known rather than known by the apparatus of the sensory-empirical psychology. Buddhism regulated all psychology by its sensate knowledge. Thus its dhyana or jhana was also tied up with the empirical sensory. No wonder it never had to acknowledge the self of the Upanishads which is known not by any amount of sensory empirical even when such an empirical becomes profoundly meditative and contemplative. This restriction of the psychology of meditation and dhyana or jhana to the sensory resulted in what was well apprehended, a scepticism in respect of the transcendental self. The sensory intuition of jhana never went beyond the super sensory or more subtle sensory but tied up to desire elements central to persistence in the sensory empirical reality. Once this limitation on man’s knowledge was imposed it was clear that the transcendental or non-sensory intuitive realisation of the self becomes impossible. Scepticism regarding the transcendental in Buddha became nihilism at the hands of Buddhists. That the Buddha and Buddhists did experience nirvana as a non-sensory empirical thing and that it had non negative characteristics as was previously predicated is well known. It almost appeared to be the ananda experience of the Vedanta. So much so today philosophers of Buddhism consider that behind the negative nihilistic experiences of the arhat or attained one, there were positive excellences in that experience. Thus beyond the nirguna they realised the saguna or what Vedanta calls the Ubhaya linga dual characteristic of the Highest experience, but in a different sense, even as in Vedanta. Saguna usually means qualified, but when it is applied to the Highest it means that it is transcendental qualities that it refers to, not to the empirical sensory, however subtle and attenuated. As a matter of fact in Indian philosophy since Buddhi is a material category, experience with its help falls within the competence of the sensory, and the Self being beyond it, it is impossible to know it with its help also.

One almost sees that Buddhism when properly understood showed more clearly than Samkhya the basic impossibility of knowing the Self by means of the buddhi which is a prakrti’s modification owing to an unconscious desire to please or be pleased. The lacuna in the Samkhyan system was but more fully expanded and we find that the two are but variants of the same impulse to explain reality and one fails to do it being preoccupied with the practical problem of solving misery and the other entering into the metaphysical problem of enumerating categories. It is only when we find that the human mind is incorrigibly trained to search for Reality rather than get over its grief’s and miseries and would undergo all the trials of sorrow and suffering and defeat and disgrace for arriving at it that Buddhism had itself to undergo a modification.

Thus the pure Hinayana underwent a sea change when Mahayana came in. We find a theogony developing on the lines of the tantras, a fourfold godhead culminating in the images of the Buddha and the other bodhisattvas. The need for God was not to be denied, all that has happened is that human persons who became teachers towards liberation were apotheosised. It has relevance to the very psychology of the human consciousness. The personality cult rose in its subtle form and the impersonal (so called) dharma got a body (dharmakaya) in the personality of the Buddha. This truth we find gets repeated again and again, whether it is eastern religion or mysticism. This basic fusion of the impersonal acts as the superior partner or as the inferior one, that is to say whether it is conceived that the impersonal bodies itself forth in the personality of the great teacher or world saviour, or whether the personality and person of the world saviour or creator ordains the laws which apply to all phenomena of existence. Laws are impersonal, it is difficult to conceive of laws without a law giver and therefore person. Science loves the impersonal law, whereas religion harps back to the person. The mass of people may rejoice in the uniformity of law and call it justice, but in deep moments of their own experience they feel the need for the personal relationship, a need for the experience of reciprocal feeling, which no law can grant. Dharma has to be exceeded (though some may feel it has to descend) and the dharma-kaya or Purusa has to be felt and loved and attained and worshipped.

Thus we find that slowly one sees the transformation of dharma into being the vehicle of the realisation of the super personal creatorship consciousness, and one passes beyond the nothingness of the world and self to the eternal presence of the transcendent Buddha, who is even now brooding over his realm. Such a culmination of course was not perhaps sought at the beginning nor was it visualised. Philosophy cannot be escaped. Though it begins with the very limited practical aim of trying to remove misery through knowledge of the causes of sorrow, such as desire and selfness etc., it ends up in trying to feel the general pattern of the reality within which both the bondage and the liberation are provided for; it entails the explanation of the causes of ignorance and the causes of liberation and how both these could be engineered and are being engineered. The possibility of these twin processes, originally called creation and destruction, sristi and laya (samhara), is in reality and the ascent and the descent or vice versa have to be explained by thought. That thought which has been habituated to descent cannot grasp the logic and law of the ascent is a fact that has to be admitted, even as the pure logic of ascent cannot but neglect the logic of descent. Thus philosophy tends to fall apart in its two tendencies, and though both are practical enough, yet it has become rather a habit of thought to assume that one process is practical whilst the other is theoretical.

Buddhism started with its conception of truth as that which is practically verifiable by what it does: a truth claim is justified only be practical verification. (artha-kriya karitva). This is again and again recurrent in the theories of truth of Nyaya and Visistadvaita Vedanta; the paratah pramana (extraneous test) and the Vyavaharanugunatva really owe their truth criterion to Buddhist practicalness of the test of truth, rather than a purely observational or so-called logical view of perceptual consistency or consistency as such, or coherence of the perceived with the already accumulated knowledge of the whole rather than the whole itself.

The doctrine of vivarta or inversion is really an extension of the view that adharma – cycle is the opposite of the dharma cycle and there is the possibility of correspondence even like the original and its image in the mirror. The mirror analogy is an ancient one but really its full import has not been clearly visualised. The image (prati-bimba) resembles the original (bimba) but it can be seen that even perceptually there is lateral inversion. Thus dharma and adharma are to be known as the original and its lateral inversion and proceed in opposite directions. Maya is this principle of recreative disjunction of the image and the original which has the characteristic of leading one away from reality and to hug the image ultimately which is a false or unworkable counterpart of the original. The exploitation of this concept or principle that emerges from the simultaneous contemplation of the image and the original at the beginning will lead to the turning point in one’s own attitude to the changing reality and its processes. As a matter of fact it is one of the basic realisations in philosophy that a theory of changeable and changing reality will entail finally its abandonment for a permanent reality albeit subjective. Thus Buddhism started with the acceptance that all reality is change, and somehow felt that this is not the ultimate truth since this changeability of reality produces misery to one and all. Thus another criterion was introduced and the optimism of attaining a condition or state which is transcendent to change was accepted: a twofold reality thus emerged. From this to proceed to deny the reality of the changeable misery producing reality is a short step. Thus realism ended in entertaining illusionism of what was previously considered to be real, and idealism resulted. Buddhism passed through realism and its hinayana phase and entered upon idealism when it took the subjective Mahayana phase. Man’s need for permanence beyond misery dictated the ‘illusional’ theory. These needs dictated the acceptance of a super reality beyond all change rather than the logic of the phenomenal. It is here the axiological principle that the Upanishads stated was accepted by Buddha and applied with vigour to the problem of human misery. The logical contradictions were essentially inherent in the whole of reality, and though Buddhism did not realise it, it was sankara who revealed this essential two foldness of reality and showed the possibility of transition from the one reality (vyavaharika satta) to the other reality (paramarthika satta). The possibility of living in both types of reality again was shown by his concept of renounced living (detached existence) which was considered to be fuller than the ordinary living in the phenomenal though it was less perfect than the living in the Other and for the Other.

Though the doctrine of Advaita is prominent in the Vedanta of the Upanishads, it is not at all clear whether there is any theory of adhyasa or illusion. On the other hand it is through the Buddhist analysis of experience from the rational standpoint of sensory experience that the illusion theory gets its sanction and prominence. Its origins are axiological but since every fact of life craves for a metaphysical foundation as well we find that it grows metaphysical roots. We are not here concerned with affirming or denying its rightness as an explanation but that it has occurred – and nothing occurs without some kind of justification, ethical or aesthetic, if it were not logical.

Thus Buddhism played a very important role by developing at first dynamically and positively an axiological ethical concern for freedom from misery which is real and issues from the nature of the world which is basically of the form of aggregation and change which never keeps anything remaining as it is. A more dynamic view would have led to the concept of growth, which should never have been analysed simply into the mechanical triple processes of making, preserving and destroying production, growth and dissolution; nor should the concept of mechanical aggregations and constructions, skandhas, avayava-avayavi relationship be considered only in the mechanical manner. Biological processes once having been reduced in this order which our reason by its very nature does, there was open neither to Buddhism nor the atomists or the originationists or the other theorists (like the vaisesikas, carvakas and other potter-god theorists) any other way out. A theory of change of the phenomenal reality cannot be reconciled with a theory of permanence of the transcendental reality expect by negational logic. But that is not the real logic of reality which moves in terms of organic realism which reconciles the two in a continuous creativity and fusion of the two orders of reality; this was inherent in the Upanishads as Sri Ramanuja showed.

All the sutrakaras of the orthodox schools have been critical of the buddhistic logics and their extreme belief in the capacity of sensate logic or the logic of the negative to help establishing the extraordinary non-existence of the world. The very methodology of Buddhism was to show that no pramana or source of knowledge can establish reality, therefore reality is not or existence is not is a daring innovation which has been followed by Nagarjuna and Sankara and in the west by Bradley recently. Negational logic succeeds exactly in being negative, it cannot be expected that it would even succeed in establishing anything positive. How it ever expected to do that is more than what one can ever believe. But such things happen even in the domains of philosophy.

That is the reason why it was well known that a new logic which will not accept the methodology of buddhistic logic was necessary. Sankara’s commendable attempt to turn the tables proved unfortunately unsuccessful, and therefore it was that the other schools of Vedanta had to throw the negative logic overboard or show its fatal defects.

The necessity to seek a pramana higher than the negative intellectual sensate logic was shown by them, which alone will rehabilitate the self in its real integrity; it alone can justify the claims of religious experience and the need for God. Godliness needs a God, and this is true even as it is in the case of the impersonal demanding the person as its cause or being. Thus sruti pramana was shown by all to be the only source of our knowledge of self, God and of our dharma (Rtam). Ethical life is not real unless it leads to transcendental life of freedom from misery. Its society or sangha is not the modern notion of humanity striving for its living in terms of this world of desires and needs but a humanity which has almost transcended such concerns. However today we find it is this lower essentials of living here that have to be provided for and society is said to be the order of life which ensures fair distribution of life’s needs and comforts for all. Whether this needs a God or personality is a question that has to be answered by the modern Buddhist, but it would surely be a translation rather than an exposition of Buddhism.





Buddhism had a wonderful reception at the beginning. It was a religion of the common man who has hardly the capacity for deep speculations or metaphysics. It was a religion with tears in the sense of a long practice of reading and thinking and believing and doing activity. Yet it was by far the most epoch making religion of thought or reason. Practical reason dictated the discernment of the causes of man’s state, his misery. But to know that all is misery is surely the beginning and this required thinking over all the instances of one’s life and Buddha’s own experience of the world of fading youth, failing health, fitful fate and collapse of life were not arguments or proofs for the existence of evil or misery of the entire world. The misery of the whole process of man’s life and environment became recognised as one of the cardinal tenets of maya-vada or illusory theory. The sermon on the truth reveals the practicality of the instruction about life’s evanescence and misery. The second doctrine of compassion really showed not so much what today goes as the service of man as the realisation of the extraordinary foolishness of men who seek permanent pleasure in this changing world. The pity of Buddha was not that of one who felt it as a sentimental feeling of sympathy nor even the dynamics of trying to relieve this suffering as to find an inward cure for the man in suffering, a cure which in a sense everybody has to effect by his own reversal of values. Man must pass from his adharma to his dharma and no one can do it for him except himself. Buddha however also taught that no one has a right to interfere with the growth and development or life of any one else. So the call is for individual effort and individual growth and transcendence of the world.

Buddha’s teaching of awakening reason in each individual to its perception of the highest beatitude of nirvana was followed up by the ardent work of Asoka who with his sovereign position was able to carry the message of Buddha to all. He made Buddha a national figure and an avatar of Dharma – the true dharma of liberation and peace.

Moving southward Buddhism got adherents in the south and even occupied the whole of Lanka or Ceylon. The teachers of this message were purely wedded to the original writings of the Buddha and were in a sense fundamentalists. They were called men of the smaller vehicle – Hinayana. Buddhism spread in Ceylon. Here is pure Buddhism and it is this Buddhism that was the target of criticism from the vedantins and other systems. That Buddhism did provide a rethinking of values on the part of the darsanas is a fact of capital importance: ethical life based on the basic concepts of satya, aparigraha, brahmacarya and ahimsa was more important and will lead to the emancipation from samsaric cycle than the worship of the gods and sacrifices. This was a truth that held sway in the minds of the people of south India. Great thinkers were supplied to Buddhism from the south such as Dinnaga (of kanci), Dharmakirti (of Tirumalai) and Nagarjuna, and these thinkers could hardly have influenced the Hinayana. Indeed we find that these thinkers were most influential in the Mahayana or the greater vehicle.

It is true however that south India gave to Japan the leading exponent of the Dhyana school or Zen (in China Chen). The yoga methodology of Buddhism stems out of the importance of Dhyana for Bodhi, there can be no Bodhi without dhyana. The most important technique of yoga namely citta-vrtti nirodha, usually translated as the restraint of mental modifications is unfortunately a translation that has hardly the sanction of practice. Indeed many yogis have gone wrong in trying to arrest all thought processes and ended up in that sleep-samadhi where consciousness was reduced to a state of exhaustion and this kind of dhyana was most detrimental to the vision awakening dhyana of the Buddha. Concentration arising out of the contemplation of the process of the dialectical mind and of the process of the stream of reality or flux raises the tension of the consciousness to vision of the true nature of the mind and consciousness itself. Indeed it is then that one transcends the dualities not by annulling them but by including them in the totality and perceives the arising and passing of all things. It is not the concentration on the permanent that leads to the discovery of the nature of reality but intuition into the change that leads to the vision of that which is beyond change or changeless state or nothingness. Nothingness is the very definition of permanence since all experience is experience of change alone. Dhyana techniques were devised to liberate consciousness from the permanence and finally bodhi was seen to have led to the transcendence of the limiting consciousness. True citta-vrtti-nirodha meant then the liberation of the citta from the modifications that it undergoes when it pursues the objects of desire or constructs them. It is a technique of awakening the true nature or consciousness by reversing its mode of modifying itself and thus turning it back into its own source or alaya. This alayavijnana of the Yogacara Buddhism is the most important discovery and contributed to that extraordinary capacity of the Japanese in their powers of endurance and conquest over the dualities and concentration of mind. It is that which led to their being even today the most active minds. Buddhism abroad has precisely led to the improvement of the mind of other nations, and its positive contribution lay in its leading to training the mind in perfect flexibility and awareness, whilst by a sad fate in India the very dhyana cult has been extinguished thanks to a metaphysical misunderstanding of the nature of Nirvana or Sunyata. That real apprehension of reality and true freedom cannot come about unless the mind itself is changed radically in such a way that it does not enter slothfulness or inertia or sleep at no time is the one supreme contribution that Japanese Buddhism has done to its own Shinto religion. Indeed it is precisely to stimulate that true worship of being which led to interiority of perceptions open to the soul of man in a sense that led to the transcendence of the private embodied ego. It is to south India that Japan owed this forward movement. Today all over the world the Zen Buddhist practices have become common and efficiency in work (yoga is skill technique) is now sought through it. But it is ultimately to lead to emancipation from the samsara, this view however is now relegated to the background thanks to the pressing needs of this world affairs and goods.

China had a long and hoary religion. But this religion too was more or less for human living. Confucius, Mencius and other thinkers were worshipping the highest as Tao. This Tao was said to be the highest that one should realise and live by in every thing. Chinese religion is the religion of the respectable and humanistic man. It was not otherworldly nor did it very much speculate on the Ultimate except in so far as absolutely necessary. It was by and large an ethical religion of good and decent behaviour in society. However ethical religion can hardly be satisfactory or satisfying to man as such for problems of metaphysical import constantly come up. Some explanations of the origin of the world come up for consideration however much put aside. So too naturalness of life itself bears the imprint of several kinds of naturalness. Confucius did discover that enlightened behaviour as basically related to reasonableness or reason, in the social context. This was and even today one of the attractive features of Chinese Taoism or Confucianism. Tao ‘is principle of sageness within and kingliness without’, and is also the method for the attainment of the sublime and the performance of the common task. Again and again we find that this supreme principle of Tao is fully to be realised in the ordinary tasks of life and is not reserved only for the extraordinary works.

Buddhism when it went to china thanks to the scholar monks at the invitation of the leading men of that country and was embraced by them, was in a sense supplying a want in the people. Good conduct even in the light of the Tao was not enough. Nor is this world-affirmation enough. There is a yearning to know the mystery of the beyond and mystery of birth itself. Buddhism has assumed that there is a beyond of blessedness and a returning cycle of misery if one does not go beyond. The role that it played in India was in a sense reversed, whilst in India it was a religion of negations it became even through its very negations a religion of affirmations abroad. China found in Buddha deliverer of the people from the thraldom to a habit of decency and humanism to which Taoism led it, though it should be pointed out that it was not so easy to confine Taoism to habit of cultured humanism. It required a strenuous awareness even as Zen had demanded but as we know there is a fatality in all practice that makes even consciousness sink into automations and habits. Buddhism gave a clear impetus to the rousing of the imagination of the people and in this great process of renunciation of life and search for Bodhi or illumination arrived at by renunciation of all life-values it formulated the greater vehicle. What obviously could not be developed in India for Buddha in the context of Indian mythology was developed abroad in the form of Mahayana theology of the Buddha. Great concepts and techniques were developed. The bodhisattva and the hierarchical arrangement of all the Gods, the mystico-occult methods of worship all returned to the scene of the Buddha. Tantricism also developed along with the basic urge to transcend all processes of nature. All desires were sought to be yoked to the all embracing desire for nirvana and with a logic that is capable of being understood only in the context of the need to satisfy the lower human nature somehow. Sublimation might have been the aim but it is clear that after a brief while they lost their capacity to transform man. It is no longer the religion that Buddha taught but a Buddhism that somehow fulfilled the needs of the hearts and passions of men that came to stay. However the solemn beauty of a Buddha was a more personal matter than the impersonal Tao, and China retained Buddha though not his basic teaching which was not quite different in matters pertaining to human conduct other than its own original Taoism.

The charm of Buddha, his purity and compassion, which is the dynamic urge in him to change and transform men into real seekers after peace and health in the nirvana have always that attractiveness which ages cannot remove. Even today the message of Buddha appeals because there is in it the secret of peaceful life, a life of renunciation and reason, a profound inner satisfaction of going beyond the ego of a thousand personalities or masks or births.

Buddha called upon man to form a true society or egoless souls and his greatest concern was to see that such a satsangh grew up and did not develop the cult consciousness or church consciousness which is but a glorified ego. That is why the nihilism of the ego in whatever form or of whatever pattern individual or social was his main consideration. Man should seek to be nobody, he should absorb himself in the Buddha who is absolutely free from all ego. Buddham Saranam Gacchami prays the Buddhist and only secondly does he say Dharmam Saranam Gacchami, which is the dharma of renunciation of ego and acceptance of all rules and methods which lead to the abolition of the ego, and lastly alone did he counsel the prayer of Sangham Saranam Gacchami for the sangha is the council of egoless men who increase the egolessness rather than promote it, not even for the sangha. However this last has been rarely achieved, and the sangha kills the dharma and the Buddha.


A note:

Buddhism influenced all the schools of Indian philosophy in a basic sense in so far as it focussed the attention on the problem of human suffering rather than on the problem of knowledge. Knowledge is not an end in itself but it is undoubtedly the means for liberation from sorrow. This knowledge is not the knowledge of reality but the knowledge of the causes of human sorrow. Likely it is that this problem was under the surface consciousness of the vedic seers who were engrossed in the metaphysical reality, the original cause of all things and of oneself. This large problem was restricted to an ethical level not as a search for the good, but as a search for the means of liberation from misery.

We can see that almost all the systems: Vaisesika, Nyaya, Samkhya and Yoga have made the pratijna or assertion of their problem of relief from suffering through knowledge. The Vaisesika Nyaya held that the knowledge of the categories of experience (saptapadarthi) and knowledge of the categories of dialectic or controversy are enough to liberate one from misery. Samkhya taught that the knowledge of the nature of prakrti and her evolution and the nature of the purusa or soul will liberate one from misery. Buddhism alone clearly put it that such knowledge of categories however valuable as knowledge does not lead to liberation but to a false sense of liberation. Thus Buddha gave up the path of Yoga too which was dependent on this samkhyan approach. Buddha counselled that the fourfold truths ought to be known and practiced. Thus the problem of suffering was the paramount concern of Buddha and other schools had to answer the problem. Even Vedanta had to assure its followers that liberation from samsara or suffering will be final and complete only when Brahman the original cause is known. Thus the causal approach which is considered to be the approach of rationality has been the significant direction of Buddhist philosophical ethical problem and solution.