What is the difference between brahma of Mayavadis and shunya of voidists?
Transcription by- Keshav Gopal Das & Ambuj Gupta
Question: What is the difference between the nirmal jyoti of the impersonalists and the void of the voidists?
Answer: We can look at it in three different ways- conceptually, historically and in terms of their own philosophy.
So conceptually they are very similar, in the sense that, Bhakti Siddhantha Thakur gives the example that both involve negation. He said that if a child has cataract because of which child has become blind, then one uncle may say “come pluck both the eyes”. Another may say “kill the child”. So plucking of the eyes is like rejecting form and personality and relationships and activities because these are cause of bondage. That is what the impersonalists think in terms of conceiving absolute reality. Another uncle may come and say that ok why pluck, kill the child, whole problem will be removed. So that is like denying existence itself. Voidists have the idea that when desires become silent and get nirwan then it is like a candle getting extinguished. Every philosophy have a defining metaphor. For example, for mayavadis metaphor might be a drop entering into ocean. So like that for the Buddhists, the voidists, the example is the candle getting extinguished. That is often the defining metaphor for nirwan, for the perfection of voidism. So one is when we see there is existence, impersonalists say there is existence but there is no form, personality, activity, and relationships- no qualities. Whereas the voidists say that there is no existence itself. That is difference in terms of conception but in terms of method both are trying to work away from the misery of material existence, trying to find a cause and go beyond that cause. Just like both uncles ultimately they see the child is suffering. How do we deal with suffering of the child? So they are coming up in different ways. Prabhupada says that as far as recognizing the material world as a place of misery and that we need to go beyond it, there is no confrontation between the Buddhists, the mayavadis and the vaishnavas. All three recognize that reality. They have to go beyond this world. But then what is the cause of the problem and what is solution, they have difference in terms of conception of the positive realities. Conceptually both are going to same goal but then individual understanding that they come up is different.
Historically, the Buddhist philosophy came up with lot of problems in terms of internal contradictions. So there is a philosopher Nagarjun, he basically posed two level reality. One is the current reality that we experience, where there is duality, where there is personality, where there is activity. This also real but there is a higher level reality and when one goes there then it is like entring into non existence because other realms were very difficult for Buddhists to explain, just like for mayavadis it is very difficult to explain where did the world come from, where did the soul come from, where did the Brahman come from if everything is maya? How does Brahman come under maya? Now Nagarjun’s idea became popular by the fifth century AD and around sixth seventh century by Shankracharya. Then he saw that Buddhism has spread rapidly in India. In order to get people back into the Vedic fold he recommended panchopasna. He found that there are five different deities when are permanently worshipped in India and he said these five deities are manifestations of Brahman. So ultimately we are all common but there is variety whichever way you want to worship and he unified. He is talking about two level reality that is there in our Vedic scripture also. So there is vyavaharik and there is parmarthik. The vyavaharik level, at the practical level reality, there is variety. At the parmarthik level there is no variety. This conception is very difficult to sustain based on Vedic scriptures because vast majority of Vedic scriptures talk about personality and relationships. There are prayers of the devotees being offered to the God. There are sacrifices performed. The idea of oneness is talked about but not so frequently. So in terms of historical content primarily the charisma of Shankaracharya and the logic which he had used that refuted the Buddhists because the Buddhists did not anyway accept the scripture authority. So there is no use of using scripture to refute them. Now he also did try to comment on scriptures but even if we study the Vedanta sutra objectively, just based on Sanskrit and one can understand clearly that there is much more than this impersonal conception in that. So historically it emerged as a response to Buddhism. Voidism came first and then the mayavadi Brahaman conception came later. So in that sense the two are similar but one is within the Vedic fold, the other is outside the Vedic fold. Similarities is used to attract people from outside the Vedic fold to inside the Vedic fold and once they become attracted then subsequent acharyas, Ramnujacharya, Madhavacharya, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu eventually and they have given the further understanding of Vedic scriptures.
Now going beyond if we look at from the point of view of say their own philosophies, means how the philosophy evolved from human experience and how the philosophy evolved from the historical thing. Now if you look at the philosophy in and of itself, the Buddhists and impersonalists recognize the similarities but there are some differences. There idea of difference is that Brahman is the highest reality. That’s what the mayavadis say. Although they don’t say that it’s a cipher (zero) but it’s practically like a cipher because whatever something define something qualities, activities, you know the story that Prabhupada would tell of a parrot. The king had entrusted a parrot to his minister and told him, take care of him. Never give me the news that this parrot has died. Then the parrot one day died. Then king just ask how is the parrot. He would say that yes, parrot is fine but just one problem, it doesn’t chuck. Oh! really, any other problem? It doesn’t eat. Any other problem? It doesn’t move. Any other problem? It doesn’t breath. That means its dead. But I didn’t say that? I didn’t say that, you are saying it. You said never give the news that parrot is dead. If you said dead, then you will be dead. Similarly mayavadis do not deny God in any way. They say Brahman is the highest reality. Whatever defines reality they deny that. Whatever is the characteristics of things in existence they deny that. In one sense as devotees we are trying to refute, these ideas has been there for centuries and technically they have their own variations. Within mayavadis also they have their schools. Mayavadi say everything is one but they themselves are not one. They have their diversities of opinion, what exactly is mayavadi. Similarly Buddhist also have. At that time immediately after Buddha two further branches of Buddhism came- Mahayana Buddhism and ________Buddhism and afterwards further branches also. From our point of view if we want to respond, the easiest way to point out is that both this philosophy focus on negation and the negation point they look correctly, in terms of recognize this world a place of misery but they don’t have much of positive conception. The positive conception is derived more from a negation of a negative then a revelation of a positive. So just deny, deny, deny and then you try to come to something but you don’t really come to anything positive. Most people even if they claim to be mayavadi, they claim to Buddhists, they do not generally have much philosophical understanding of their own philosophies. If we try to understand the negation in terms of, negative axis, zero, and positive axis, this makes things clear to people and most questions can be addressed based on that. If you want to go into more details I have given the series of classes on “Krishna consciousness and world religions”, there I analyzed Buddhism historically in much more detail. Then I have given four classes in Bhakti shastri course on “Danger of impersonalism”. But in general for a broad purpose of understanding negation and positive revelation is enough to recognize the overall similarity between shunya and Brahman. Main difference is that one is within Vedic context, other is not Vedic context. Externally speaking one accepts the reality of spiritual existence but spiritual existence is stripped of any quality and you think that will make existence seem like existence whereas the Buddhist they basically deny existence. Off course some Buddhist go into more sophistry (fallacious or wrong use of words), they say that actually attaining nirwan, is attaining the existence beyond existence and non existence. What this means is they also do not know, it’s just word jugglery, but basically it’s a rejection. Both philosophies have the commonality of rejection. Thank you.