Sankara – A Hindu who was no big fan of the Buddha

English: Statue of Adi Shankara at his Samadhi...
Statue of Adi Shankara at his Samadhi Mandir in Kedarnath, India. Photo taken by Priyanath. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sankara, Shankara or Adi Shankara (c. 700 – 750 CE) was a Hindu philosopher, mystic and theologian born in Kerala, India.

A towering figure in Indian philosophical history, Sankara advocated Advaita Vedanta. His commentaries on scripture like the Bhagavad-Gita and Brahma-sutras outline the Advaita philosophy, which teaches the non-duality and absolute identidy of atman and brahman

Sankara was highly critical of the Buddha and is often held responsible for driving Buddhism out of India. In his commentary on the Brahma-sutra, he writes

The Buddha exposed for the sake of instruction, three mutually contradictory doctrines, either having manifested thus his own incoherent garrulity or his enmity towards all living beings, having erroneously assumed that they would be confused.²

Srimad Guru Adi Shankaracharya
Srimad Guru Adi Shankaracharya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In fact, Sankara and his followers regarded the Buddha as an evil avatar. Why evil? Because the Buddha, from Sankara’s perspective, tried to sway the masses away from the sacred Veda.

But some Hindu philosophers take a big picture approach and interpret the Buddha’s critique of Hinduism in an overall positive light. For them, the Buddha’s apparent deception restored balance to a Hindu priesthood that had become hypocritical and elitist.

Some see this as a strength of Hinduism. It can take almost anything and conceptually absorb it into its overall philosophy. However, others see this as problematic because, for them, Hinduism fails to appreciate different religions for what they really are, on their own terms.³

Related » Moksha, Ramanuja, Scholarship, Self, Visistadvaita

¹ The following reveals considerable ambiguity with regard to authorship:

² (Now a dead link; was active in 2009/05/12)

³ While a student in India doing my Masters, a professor whom I admired very much once said “Jesus was a messenger” and “all religions are the same.” As I grew into my – admittedly innovative – Catholic path, I really have questioned these assertions. For me, the Eucharistic love and warmth simply could not be found in my experience of Hinduism. The Eucharist helps me to experience a whole new vista that I didn’t even know existed prior to my reception of it.  So I would not agree that all religions are the same. As to the status of Jesus, this is something I think about a lot. But I would not be happy relegating him to the status of “messenger,” just like any other religious figure. Simply put, no other figure makes me feel the same way. Having said that, I also believe that all religions may work together. But imo that does not mean that they are all the same.


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