#5217 – Greg Goode on Advaita “vs” Madhyamika

Kim Lai, who runs the Nonduality Sydney meetup group, sent the following articles by Greg Goode:


Greg Goode

Coming to Madhyamika with Awareness teachings in your background

One of the most important points if you come to Madhyamika from an Awareness background is to realize the emptiness of awareness.

Why? Because in Buddhism, everything is empty, not just stuff other than awareness. But in Buddhism, awareness is empty too.

For such a person with such a background, this can create a paradoxical difficulty.

One one hand, it might be easy to realize the emptiness of objects like tables and chairs. After all, according to the awareness teachings, these objects cannot exist on their own. Tables and chairs depend on awareness by being nothing other than awareness. The transition of this insight to Madhyamika is pretty smooth. (Of course in classical Madhyamika, tables and chairs depend on other things too, like elements and conditions. Sometimes awareness teachings pay lip service to these effects, sometimes not. But mostly in awareness teachings, things are nothing in themselves but are actually the nature of awareness.) So tables and chairs might be pretty easy.

But on the other hand, it is harder to realize the emptiness of awareness itself. And this difficulty is something we see in so many of these cross-path discussions.

This difficulty comes from the fact that awareness does so much work in the awareness teachings. It becomes something quite NON-empty when seen from the perspective of the Madhyamika teachings. In teh awareess teachings, awareness is the sum and substance and nature and identity and truth and being of everything. It depends on nothing else. In some awareness teachings, awareness is not even said to be self-knowing (for that would be a dualistic relation.) It just shines in its own glory.

So when you come to the emptiness teachings, it can be very challenging and disorienting. It’s difficult for many folks new to the emptiness teachings to see the emptiness of awareness. It is hard to see awareness depending on anything else. But that is what one must do according to Madhyamika.

This difficulty is even harder to address if a person makes an equivalence in their mind as they cross paths, saying “awareness=emptiness, they are the same thing.”

Why is it so important to realize the emptiness of awareness?

For two reasons.

One, in Buddhism, it is important to realize the emptiness of everything. Everything is inter-dependent. If we still have the conception of the inherent existence of anything at all, then to some extent we are still clinging and grasping.

Two, and more important, is this. In the case of most awareness teachings, it is taught that the self is nothing other than awareness. “I am awareness.” So if I have the conception of awareness being inherently existent, then I will also have the conception that I am inherently existent. I won’t be able to realize myself as empty unless I realize that awareness is empty.

So it must be done. It’s almost like a person coming from awareness teachings must investigate awareness as a special topic, a special dedicated set of emptiness meditations. It’s that important, and the “awareness-is-all” assumptions are that strong when you come from those teachings. When you are doing emptiness meditations with that kind of background, seeing the emptiness of awareness has complexities and subtleties that other things don’t have.

Greg Goode

Advaita “vs” Madhyamika

I wrote this yesterday for the Dharma Connection group, and maybe it’s relevant here too (it has some edits for this group). It’s in response to someone who was claiming that all paths, including Advaita and Madhyamika, truly lead to the same truth, the same realization. Sometimes when people confront a lot of different paths, they get a sense of cognitive dissonance. They feel like they have to make that tension go away by landing on a judgment about paths or goals as truly “the same” or “different.” But how can that really be?

So, about Advaita and Madhyamika…..

We can certainly say that they share an overall soteriological goal: freedom from suffering, happiness, compassion, love. The heart wants to say “SAME” here. That’s understandable, and I feel that deeply.

But beyond that, the mechanics, concepts, and languaging are very different, even on the surface.

Something Michael Zaurov said makes a lot of sense, and it has extremely radical consequences:

“Certain views lead to certain realizations. Other views lead to other realizations. Realization is dependent on view.”

If realizations can affect views, then views can affect realizations. The views of Advaita and Madhyamika are quite different. In fact, Madhyamika owes much of its presentation to the rejection of essential nature and absolute truth that Advaita proposes. The two paths could not be more different on this.

Even the “ultimate truth” in Buddhism does not map to the Absolute Truth in Advaita, though there has been a perennialist effort to combine the two into a master Vedantic meta-view for about a century. Perennialism began as long ago as the 15th century with Neoplataonism, and was appropriated by Christian exclusivism. In the last century we’ve seen Swami Vivekananda, Rene Guenon, Frithjof Schuon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Madame Blavatsky, Aldous Huxley, and the New Age movement opt for “inherent sameness.” The resulting view is much more Advaita-like than Buddhist-like, which corresponds with the favored view of the perennialist proponents most of the time.

The Buddhist side would not insist on either “inherently same” or “inherently different.” The Buddhists would be more like, “You do your thing, we’ll do ours. Let’s just all be kind to each other.”

I even remember hearing a story about the Dalai Lama giving emptiness teachings. Someone in the audience asked him, “What about Brahman and all the Vedantins who study that? Are you saying that emptiness is true and Brahman is mistaken?”

He thought for a moment and replied, “Brahman – that is their business. Emptiness – that is our business.” 🙂

So I think it is not helpful to try to stand in a neutral place and compare the truths or the metaphysics of these teachings. We can’t do it. Where would we find a neutral place?

We can give a Mahyamika interpretation of Advaita or an Advaitin interpretation of Madhyamika. Or a comparative religion-style story about them. Or an everyday psychological assessment of both paths, if we have have had experiences in both.

But to try to give a metaphysical comparison and ordering and ranking of views from a place that is “neutral” or “impartial” or “unaffected by views” cannot be done. Comparisons and ordering and ranking and assessments are never neutral, but always themselves dependent upon certain standards. And standards are dependent upon views.

It SEEMS possible to do make these assessments neutrally, but that’s only if we are blind to the emptiness of view, blind to how our conceptual or experiential assessment is already conceptually implicated in some view or another. In my experience reading so many of these essays and posts, the comparative efforts usually (not always) tend to favor the perennialist view, resulting in a kind of projection and imperialism of the “mine.”


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