Did Buddha accept any Ultimate Reality?
It is usually claimed that Buddha did not accept (or remained silent about) he concept of an Ultimate Reality unlike the Upanishads which claim that here exists an Ultimate Reality called Brahman. There are, however, several places in the Buddhist scriptures where Buddha seems to agree with the Upanishads. I have given below
some of those quotations.
Then there is the Mahayana Buddhist concept of Dharmakaya. Buddhists claim that there is nothing permanent in the universe and that the basic nature of the entire universe is Buddha nature. It seems that there is an inconsistency here! To see the inconsistency one has to define "Buddha nature". Buddha nature is called Dharmakaya. Dalai Lama in his book "Essential Teachings (ET)" defines Dharmakaya as the "body of dharma" which is the essential nature of Buddha which is one with the the Transcendent Reality, the essence of the universe. Thus Dharmakaya is the absolute transcendent reality which is also immanent in the universe. Since Dharmakaya is absolute, it has to be eternal. Thus what Buddhists are really stating is that there is nothing permanent in the universe and that the universe has the eternal reality dharmakaya. This position is absurd and logically inconsistent. Either one says that the universe is imparmenent or you say that something in the universe is permanent. One can not say that the universe is both permanent and impermanent at the same time! It seems to me that the only way to resolve this inconsistency is to assume that Dharmakaya appears to us as the universe.
This would then make Dharmakaya the same as Brahman of the Upanishads!
So what was Buddha's real position on the Ultimate Reality?
QUOTES FROM BUDDHIST SCRIPTURES ABOUT AN ULTIMATE REALITY
Buddha himself said,"There is an unborn, an unoriginated, an unmade, an ncompounded; were there not, O mendicants, there would be no escape from the orld of the born, the unoriginated, the made and the compounded" (Udana 8.3).
Kevaddha Sutta: About Kevaddha (Digha Nikaya 11.85/i.223)
Buddha: 'So that monk, as swiftly as a strong man might flex or unflex his arm, vanished from the Brahma world and appeared in my presence. He prostrated himself before me, then sat down to one side, and said:"Lord, where do the
four great elements – the earth element, the water element, the fire element nd the air element – cease without reminder?"
Buddha replied:"….Monk, you should not ask this question this way …. Instead, this is how the question should have been put:
'Where do earth, water, fire and air not find footing? Where are long and short, small and great, fair and foul – where are "name and form" wholly destroyed?'
And the answer is:
'Where consciousness is signless, boundless, all-luminous, that's where earth, water, fire and air find no footing, here both long and short, small and great, fair and foul – here "name-and-form" are wholly destroyed.""
Mahjima Nikaya Brahmanimantanika Sutta 49.25/i.330 also makes Buddha say,
"Consciousness non-manifesting, boundless, luminous all-round"
The translator (Bodhi) acknowledges that these lines in Digha Nikaya and Mahjima Nikaya have been a perennial challenge to Buddhist scholarship and even Acharya Buddhaghosha seems to founder over them.
Translated from the Pali by T.W. Rhys Davids
XIII. Tevijja Sutta (Digha Nikaya)
On Knowledge Of The Vedas
39. When he had thus spoken, VaseÂÂha, the young Brahmana, said to the Blessed One:
'Just so has it been told me, Gotama, even that the Gotama knows the way to a STATE OF UNION WITH BRAHMAN. It is well! Let the venerable Gotama be pleased to show us the way to a STATE OF UNION WITH BRAHMAN, let the venerable Gotama save the Brahmana race'!
'Listen then, VaseÂÂha, and give ear attentively, and I will speak!'
'So be it, Lord!' said the young Brahmana VaseÂÂha, in assent, to the Blessed One.
40. Then the Blessed One spake, and said:
Know, VaseÂÂha, that (from time to time) a Tathagata is born into the world, an Arahat, a fully awakened one, abounding, in wisdom and goodness, happy, with knowledge of the worlds, unsurpassed as a guide to mortals willing to be led, a teacher of gods and men, a Blessed One, a Buddha. He, by himself, thoroughly understands, and sees, as it were, face to face this universe —
including the worlds above with the gods, the Maras, and the Brahmas; and the world below with its Samatas and Brahmanas, its princes and peoples; — and he then makes his knowledge known to others. The truth doth he proclaim both in the letter and in the spirit, lovely in its origin, lovely in its progress, lovely in its consummation: the higher life doth he make known, in all its purity and in all its perfectness.
76.'And he lets his mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of Love, and so the second, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around, and everywhere, does he continue to pervade with heart of Love, far-reaching, grown great, and beyond measure.
77. 'Just, VaseÂÂha, as a mighty trumpeter makes himself heard-and that without difficulty-in all the four directions; even so of all things that have shape or life, there is not one that he passes by or leaves aside, but regards them all with mind set free, and deep-felt love.
'Verily this, VaseÂÂha, is the way to a STATE OF UNION WITH BRAHMAN.
78. 'And he lets his mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of pity, … sympathy, equanimity[31 ], and so the second, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around, and everywhere, does he continue to pervade with heart of pity. . . . sympathy , . . . equanimity, far-reaching, grown great, and beyond measure.
79. 'Just, VaseÂÂha, as a mighty trumpeter makes himself heard — and that without difficulty — in all the four directions ; even so of all things that have shape or life, there is not one that he passes by or leaves aside, but regards them all with mind set free, and deep-felt pity, … sympathy, … equanimity.
'Verily this, V¤seÂÂha, is the way to a STATE OF UNION WITH BRAHMAN.'
80. 'Now what think you, VaseÂÂha, will the Bhikkhu who lives thus be in possession of women and of wealth, or will he not?'
'He will not, Gotama!'
'Will he be full of anger, or free from anger?'
'He will be free from anger, Gotama!'
'Will his mind be full of malice, or free from malice?'
'Free from malice, Gotama!'
'Will his mind be tarnished, or pure?'
'It will be pure, Gotama!'
'Will he have self-mastery, or will he not?'
'Surely he will, Gotama!'
81 'Then you say, VaseÂÂha, that the Bhikkhu is free from household and worldly cares, and that Brahman is free from household and worldly cares. Is there then agreement and likeness between the Bhikkhu and Brahman?'
'There is, Gotama!
Very good, VaseÂÂha. Then in sooth, VaseÂÂha, that the Bhikkhu who is free from household cares should after death, when the body is dissolved, become UNITED WITH BRAHMAN, who is the same — such a condition of things is every
'And so you say, VaseÂÂha, that the Bhikkhu is free from anger, and free from malice, pure in mind, and master of himself; and that Brahman is free from anger, and free from malice, pure in mind, and master of himself. Then in sooth, VaseÂÂha, that the Bhikkhu who is free from anger, free from malice, pure in mind, and master of himself should after death, when the body is dissolved, become UNITED WITH BRAHMAN, who is the same-such a condition of things is every way possible!'
More posts by this author:
- How different is Buddha’s teaching from Vedanta on the after world, gods and the Ultimate Reality?
- Buddhism and the concept of self
- The problem of evil in the presence of a loving God
- Who is right, Sankaracharya or Ramanuja?
- Free Will – does it exist? What does Vedanta say?
I did my school, college and parts of my University education in Kolkata. I got my M.Sc degree from Kolkata University. I went to USA in 1979 and got my M.S and Ph.D in Physics from University of Pittsburgh in 1984. I did my Post Doctorate in University of Southern California, Los Angeles and then worked as a Research Scientist in the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Space Sciences Center of University of Southern California. My scientific work includes heavy ion-atom scattering, multiphoton ionization and heliosphere data analysis of Pioneer 10/111 and Voyager 1/2 deep space spacecaft and analysis of solar extreme ultraviolet data obtained from SOHO spacecraft. I have been a National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration (NASA) Principal Investigator from 2002 – 2007. I have been a member of a NASA awards committee to decide allocation of money to different scientists. I have also refereed scientific articles submitted to Journal of Geophysical Research and Astrophysical Journal.