‘Being’ is the spine that holds-up Advaitha Vedantha.
Advaitha Vedantha and C’han-Zen both go back actively at least 1,500 years. There are others, but none with such illustrious, lengthy lineages.
Vedantha is arguably the most influential school within the vast campus of the ‘Mother-Tradition’ [Hinduism].
Prasthana Traya, literally, ‘the three origins’ [of formal Dharmic doctrine] is reference to the Upaniṣads, the Bhagavad-Gita, and Badarayana’s Brahma-Sutra. Any serious commentary was expected to cover all three as a display of expressive virtuosity and comprehension depth.
Vedantha’s formal origins are in the Ajātivāda of Gaudapada itself drawn from the Prajna-Paramitha texts in which Gaudapada was schooled. And the determining influence of the emerging Buddhist Teachings is evident in his opus, the Gaudapada Karika:
‘Uttama Satya [the highest truth] is …[the realization] that there is neither dissolution nor creation, neither bondage nor liberation, no one seeking liberation, no one attaining liberation.‘
Gaudapada’s immediate disciple is listed as Govindapada who is considered the direct teacher of Śaṅkarācārya who in his famously lucid Sanskrit reformulated the idea of Brahman and its articulation for the then modern ear as Advaitha-Vedantha, the ‘Doctrine of the Non-Dual’, a term embedded in Yājñavalkya’s Dialogues.
Śaṅkarācārya’s plants his intellectual roots firmly in Yājñavalkya the founding sage, and his awakening to the ‘Inner-Controller’ [Atman].
And from there he traces down through the dominant scholar-scribes of the mainstream tradition. Asmarathya and Kasakrtsna, the scholar Badarayana [who authored the Brahma-Sutras, circa 200 BCE] and Upavarsha.
Śaṅkarācārya’s language, descended in the direct lineage of Gaudapada, and Govindapada, was transparent in displaying its intellectual roots.
To anyone familiar with the Texts, it is certain that Nirguna-Brahman is a renaming of the then climbing popularity of the new Buddhist construct of Śūnyathā. A re-appropriation of a truant back into the orthodox fold of Vedic exegesis. The very title to the tradition [Advaitha, Advayadharma] has it’s roots in the wide usage given it in the Prajna-Paramita commentaries.
Śaṅkarācārya never explored the dimensions of this newly discovered land. In fact he chose not to visit it. He kept the divide of Purusha-Prakriti, firmly in place but had it significantly slimmed down.
Brahman, from the root ‘Brh‘, ‘to pour forth’, is a principal posit of the Vedas, synonymous with Ātman and ‘That’. And it had over the centuries, and in true and feisty Hindu spirit, accumulated a plethora of new garments, capricious add-ons and convenient re-sizings.
In the layout of Advaitha Vedantha this ‘Inner Controller’ terminus becomes the ‘Original Inner, Immaculate ‘Self”. A ‘Witnessing Being’.
So it is that Śaṅkarācārya would declare in his seminal Gita Bhashya: ‘Atman is the ‘Knower of the Field’ [Kshetragnana]: the Witness of the three states of Waking, Dreaming and Sleep.’
And in his Vivekachudamani: ‘A liberated Being is one who sees himself as single and the witness…of the world of things…the substratum of all‘.
Śaṅkarācārya’s Brahman as an ‘Inner Controller’, the ‘Substratum of all’. itself over-laid in multiple obscuring illusory sheaths [Koshas]. Man is already Fallen and must find his fulfillment in Release [Moksha].
The circle is yet to be rounded. The self-scuttle is stopped-short. Shūnyam remains unsighted.
Here is a popular Folk-Tale more telling than any dissertation stored in a University Library.
A skeptical prince who was a pupil of Śaṅkarācārya decided to test his teacher. Once when the illustrious scholar was walking up the royal pathway to the palace, the prince unleashed an elephant from the army stables directly onto Shankara’s path.
The Brahmin, not known for valor of this sort, proceeded to climb up the nearest tree. The prince approached the teacher, bowed respectfully and inquired as to why he had climbed the tree, since according to his own teaching all, including the approaching elephant, was illusion.
‘Indeed’ said Shankara ‘the elephant was unreal, but so was your presumption that there was a me, climbing a tree.’
Like Immanuel Kant later, Śaṅkarācārya was clearly alert to the Self-Loop and it’s remorseless drive past all conventional sensibility. But he was unwilling to confront it head-on and in his formulation of Advaitha Vedantha he chooses instead to ignore it.
Where did Advaitha Vedantha go off-track? Yājñavalkya’s Rule has been kept linear. The self-scuttling disconnects before the final, fatal thrust.
All this is the unburnt remains of a modeled-world inadequately put to flame. The self-negation is incomplete. And the placement of ‘Being’, a steel spine, is needed to hold up the entire structure.
I wince when I visit a Shankara Monastery, 1,500 years after its founding, and find bright, earnest Brahmin boys, whose role is the arrival and articulation of Brahman, perfecting instead the rounding of the rolled rice-ball.
Śaṅkarācārya’s age saw a sharp rise in the popularity of the Buddha Dharma and to anyone familiar with the texts, it is certain that Nirguna-Brahman is a re-appropriation of a truant back into the orthodox fold of Vedic exegesis.
Śaṅkarācārya was right in his intuition but he was reclaiming it back for the wrong reason. The right reason would yield a proper rounding of Yājñavalkya’s Rule. And terminate at Shūnyam.