Buddhism vs Vedanta | Self vs no-self | Nirvana vs Self-Realisation | The Unborn | The Deathless

Here in this article we will explore the Buddhist teachings and contrast them to Vedanta or ‘Hindu-style’ teachings. We will look at notions of self and no-self, nirvana and self-realisation, and look at the earliest complete Buddhist teachings ie. as recorded in the Pali Suttas (Sutta is a Pali word meaning ‘thread’ and refers to a ‘string of verses’, ie. a text; Sutra is the equivalent word in Sanskrit)

Also see: Ramana Maharshi: was the Buddha self-realised?

Some people think that the teachings of the Buddha point in some fundamental way to something different to teachings of ‘Hinduism’ (Sanatana Dharma) and Vedanta. Most of these people are either only approaching the teachings in an intellectual way or are attached to a particular conceptual view; or perhaps they have not made a deep study of the teachings, or perhaps they have not developed a deeper insight into the teachings for themselves.

Let us see why this is the case, as if one reads the early recorded teachings of the Buddha for oneself, clarity on this issue arises:

The Unborn, the Unmanifest, the Uncreated, the Unconditioned

A closer reading of the Buddhist texts reveals that the Buddha did actually acknowledge in many places the existence of what in Vedanta would be called ‘The Self’ (Sanskrit: Atman) and what others may even call God. Here is just one example from the Nibbana Sutta verse 3 (Udana 8.3), which is from the Pali Canon:

There is, bhikkhus [monks], that which is unborn, that which is unmanifest [or has not come into being], that which is not fabricated/created, that which is unconditioned.

If there were not, bhikhus, that which is unborn, that which is unmanifest, that which is not fabricated/created, that which is unconditioned, there would not be escape from that which is born, from that which is manifest, from that which is fabricated/created, from that which is conditioned – that therefore would not have been clearly known/experienced/seen.

But because, bhikhus, there is indeed that which is unborn, that which is unmanifest, that which is not fabricated/created, that which is unconditioned, therefore escape from that which is born, from that which is manifest, from that which is fabricated, from that which is conditioned, is [or can be] clearly known/experienced/seen.

We can clearly see that the Buddha is categorically stating that there is something that is beyond birth and creation, beyond manifestation and that which is conditioned (ie. all objects).

He then goes on to sate that only because there is such a thing as this Unborn is it possible for liberation to occur. The Buddha even states that without the existence of ‘that which is unborn’ liberation would not be possible.

Negating vs affirming language

Note that the Buddha characteristically uses negating language – ie. NOT born, NOT manifest, NOT created, etc, rather than the combination of both negating and affirming language often used in the vedic literature.

I hope you will see that this is clearly analogous to descriptions of the Self in Vedic literature which is described as being that which is Unborn, Unmanifest, Unconditioned, etc.

Please note that the above verse and following verses are taken from the Pali canon which represents the earliest complete recorded teachings of the Buddha (rather that the writings of later schools).

Nirvana

Please also note that the word Nibbana is the Pali equivalent of the Sanskrit word Nirvana (sometimes spelt Nirbana), which is a word that is also used in pre-Buddhist Vedic texts such as the Bhagavad Gita as a synonym for liberation. This means that the Buddha chose to use the same word for liberation that the Vedic texts also used.

‘No Self’ means no ego or no Jiva, NOT no Brahman/Unborn principle

So what does the word ‘Nirvana’ mean? It literally means extinguishment or annihilation or ‘blown out’ (like extinguishing or blowing out a flame).

Why is this word used in both ‘Hinduism’ and Buddhism (and Jainism too) as a synonym for liberation? It is because in all these traditions, it is accepted that liberation is simply destruction or extinguishment of the ego-self, which is illusory or unreal. So when ‘no-self’ is proclaimed in Buddhism, it is only the denial of the Jiva (apparently separate self) or ego-illusion.

In Vedanta this is also known as manonasa or destruction (extinguishment) of mind (manas = mind; nasa = destruction or anihiliation). We will see later that the Buddha also conceived of liberation in the same way – ie. destruction of the thinking and desiring mind.

Anatman (Anatta in pali) vs Atman

The Sanskrit word atman means self, and anatman means not-self or no-self. The Pali equivalent of anatman is anatta.

The Buddha points to various phenomenal arisings and points out that in none of these can a self be found and that all of these phenomenal arisings are anatman or ‘not-self’. An example of this is the Buddhist teaching of the five skandas, which is clearly analogous to the Vedic teaching of the five koshas. In both these teachings it is pointed out that these five skandas or five koshas are not-self, meaning no self can be found in them.

It should be clear that he Buddha is not saying there is no Unborn Principle (quite the opposite as we can see from the Nibbana Sutta verse 3 above), but that the phenomenal appearance of a separate self (Jiva in Sanskrit) or ego is illusory and that only by coming into the Unborn we can attain liberation – see the next section for more on this as well as how to do this for oneself.

The Deathless – how to attain Nirvana & Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teachings

Earlier we saw how the Buddha referred to what called the Unborn, the Unmanifest, the Unfabricated. Elsewhere he referred to the same Unborn as ‘the Deathless’. See here for an example of this – in this post I also go more into the actual methodology of liberation as proposed by the Buddha and show how it is essentially the same method taught by Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.

The Unmanifest or Nirguna Brahman

In Vedanta teachings, two forms of Ultimate Reality or Brahman are spoken of: the manifest or saguna Brahman and the unmanifest or nirguna Brahman (sa = with; nir = without; guna = qualities).

According to Vedanta, in truth there is only one form of Brahman – the unmanifest or Nirguna Brahman, but is spoken of as being two purely for purposes of teaching. This Nirguna Brahman, which has no qualities that can be described in words and has no qualities that can be perceived by the senses, this nirguna Brahman is the only True Reality, and realisation of this Truth is tantamount to liberation.

The manifest or Saguna Brahman refers to the apparent world of phenomenal appearances and according to Vedanta these do not actually exist and are illusory. The Vedanta teachings encourage us to turn away from objective phenomena towards the Subject-Self which is then revealed to be Nirguna Brahman.

Unsurprisingly we see exactly the same teaching in the Buddhist Pali Suttas time and time again.

Extinguishing the Fire of Egotism

For example in the Fire Sermon, which was said to be the third sermon the Buddha gave, the Buddha explains that everything that we can perceive and imagine is just egotism which he likens to a flame or fire. It then makes sense that Nirvana is extinguishment of this flame or fire of egotism. He encourages us to ‘become disgusted’ with the various phenomenal arisings and turn away from them, and it is in this way liberation or nirvana, which is the end of egotism and suffering, occurs.

In Nirvana there is the cessation of all phenomenal appearances

How does the Buddha describe Nibbana? Where better to look than the Nibbana Sutta that was quoted above? Here is verse 1 (Udana 8.1):

There is, bhikkhus, that Base where there is no earth, no water, no fire, no air…neither this world nor another world nor both; neither sun nor moon. Here, bhikkhus, I say there is no coming, no going, no staying, no deceasing, no uprising. Not fixed, not movable, it has no support. Just this is the end of suffering.

We can see from the last phrase ‘just this is the end of suffering’ that the Buddha is describing Nirvana (which he defines as the end of suffering, and which is generally defined as the end of suffering) or what is Vedanta would be called The Self (Atman).

In his description the Buddha is also explaining that in Nirvana ‘there is no earth, no water, no fire, no air…‘, ie. by negating the appearance of the four classical elements he is stating that in nirvana there are no phenomenal arisings whatsoever. He continues this theme by stating ‘there is neither this world, not another world…neither sun nor moon… no coming, no going…

See the PDF file here to see this same process of cessation of all phenomenal arisings being described in Vedanta.

The ‘Unmoving’, that which requires ‘no support’, the ‘Unaffected’

The Buddha then goes on to describe what in Vedanta would be called the Self – the Buddha states it is ‘…not moveable, it has no support‘. In Vedanta it would be said to be immovable or unchanging (that which moves can change, that which doesn’t move does not change) and self-shining, meaning it supports itself. In Vedanta, the word ‘ananda’ which means happiness or bliss means the cessation of suffering. Hopefully it is fairly clear that the teachings are pointing to the same basic thing!

In verse two of the same Nibbana Sutta (Udana 8.2) The Buddha speaks of ‘the Unaffected‘, which is clearly another name for the Vedic notion of Self, by which craving and all phenomenal appearance (Maya in vedanta) is ended. Every phenomenal appearance is within the realm of ‘the affected’, so what is this ‘unaffected’ but the True Self?:

It’s hard to see the Unaffected,
for the Truth isn’t easily seen.
Craving is pierced
in one who knows;
For one who sees,
there is nothing.

In liberation there are no thoughts or desires

As we have already quoted from verse 3 at the top of the post, let us proceed to verse 4. In verse 4 of the Nibbana Sutta the Buddha explains that one who has not found the ‘Unaffected’ (ie. the True Self) remains dependent (on phenomenal objects) and so ‘wavers’. This wavering refers to the movements of the mind, ie. what we would call thoughts and desires. Here is verse 4 (Udana 8.4):

One who is dependent has wavering. One who is independent has no wavering. There being no wavering, there is calm. There being calm, there is no desire. There being no desire, there is no coming or going. There being no coming or going, there is no passing away or arising. There being no passing away or arising, there is neither a here nor a there nor a between-the-two. This, just this, is the end of suffering.

See how Sri Ramana Maharshi explains this here.

Cessation of time and space in Liberation

In the above verse 4 the reference to ‘there being no passing away or arising’ not only indicates no arising phenomena in liberation, but also the cessation of time itself. Similarly the reference to ‘there is neither a here nor a there nor a between-the-two’ refers to the cessation of perception of space.

We can see that the teachings are referring to what in Vedanta is known as ‘non-duality’, or advaita, Oneness beyond the illusions of ego, separation, time and space

See this described here in Vedanta teachings.

The ‘Stainless’, the ‘Sorrowless’, the ‘Blissful’

In verse 5, the final verse of this Nibbana Sutta, the Buddha states the following, continuing the theme of the need to efface all desires, wants and cravings. Note how he refers to ‘stainless’ and ‘sorrowless’ and ‘blissful’ – could be be referring to what in Vedanta would be called the Self? I think so!:

The sorrows, lamentations,
the many kinds of suffering in the world,
exist dependent on something dear.
They don’t exist
when there’s nothing dear.
And thus blissful & sorrowless
are those for whom nothing
in the world is dear anywhere.
So one who aspires
to be stainless & sorrowless
shouldn’t make anything
in the world dear
anywhere.

See how Sri Ramana Maharshi similarly describes the way to liberation here.

Some concluding remarks

I have only touched upon one Sutta here in any detail. If you read the Pali canon for yourself you will find countless references like these, eg. to the Unborn and the Deathless, again and again. You will also see references to the need to turn away from objective phenomena towards that which is unborn. You will also see references to the cessation of all arising phenomena. Again and again these references are made.

Surely the Buddha and Vedanta teachings are pointing to the same thing in their own way?

I hope you found this post of use. I have written it rather hastily in one quick sitting so apologies for any spelling or grammatical or other errors.

Namaste and best wishes!

Emptiness vs Fullness

Sometimes non-duality is described as nothing or emptiness. But this is only from the point of view of the mind. In truth, non-duality is total and utter fullness, it is not empty in the least.

It is the total cessation of suffering, it is the total extinction of multiplicity, duality and individuality.

It is beyond words but we can call it unchanging incomparable fullness-beingness-bliss or love absolute.

Q. Arahant vs Bodhisattva – which is best? | Buddhism

Q. According to Buddhism is it better to be a Bodhisattva or an Arahant? I’ve heard quite a few conflicting things about this so would be good to get some clarity.

Tom: According to the Pali Suttas, the earliest records of Buddha’s teachings, true enlightenment/liberation is to be an Arahant, a Boddhisattva being anyone who desires liberation. By this definition, a Bodhisattva is unenlightened and still stuck in suffering/samsara, and an Arahant is an enlightened sage.

In later Buddhist schools/thought, a Bodhisattva became someone who foregoes enlightenment in order to help all sentient beings attain liberation. The idea here is that an Arahant, whilst liberated, is somehow ‘cold’ and ‘self-centred’ (I don’t agree with this by the way), placing their enlightenment above others, and so the ‘compassionate’ Bodhisattva rejects full liberation in place of compassion towards others. The problem with this, as has been oft pointed out, is that only a ‘liberated being’ can lead another to full liberation, and that with Nirvana, duality and the sense of ‘another’ outside of yourself, ceases (please excuse my dualistic language – see these quotes from Diamond sutra if you are unsure what I am talking about here when I say ‘dualistic language’)

Later still, a Bodhisattva was defined loosely as a compassionate enlightened being who helps all others attain liberation. By this definition, a Bodhisattva is a desirable outcome!

So take your pick!

There is more complexity and nuance in this topic if you want to delve into it, but the above is a broad outline. Hope that helps 🙏⁠

What is the best way to deal with suffering? | Spiritual Bypassing | Vasanas and conditioning

There are two basic paths you can take with suffering. One is pure Self-Enquiry, and just like any other phenomena that is arising, you say “To whom does this occur? To me. Who am I?, in order to direct your attention away from the suffering and the thoughts and go back to the Self.

However, with strong vasanas, strong suffering, you may need to go into Maya and solve these on the level of cause and effect. Just like any other practical problem in life, we can try to solve them on the level of life.

This video was recorded live during a Satsang meeting with Tom Das and put together by volunteers.

To see all the guided meditations see the ‘guided meditation’ playlist here: https://www.youtube.com/c/TomDasNonduality/playlist

For recommended reading for liberation see here: https://tomdas.com/2020/10/19/recommended-reading-books-for-enlightenment-liberation-and-self-realisation/

To attend satsang, see here: https://tomdas.com/events.

To book a 1 to 1 session with Tom see here: https://tomdas.com/nondual-spiritual-counsellor/

Realisation of Essence of Mind through ‘thoughtlessness'(Zen (Chan) Master Hui Neng) | Ramana Maharshi

The following is taken from The Sutra of Hui Neng (also known as the Platform Sutra), Chapter 2 entitled ‘On Prajna’. My comments are interspersed in italicised red:

The wisdom of Buddhas, past, present and future, as well as the teachings of the twelve sections of the canon are immanent in the mind, but in case we fail to enlighten ourselves, we have to seek the guidance of the pious and learned.

Tom: the essential teaching is within ourselves or ‘immanent in the mind’. Only if we do not enlighten ourselves with our own inner wisdom do we need the external teacher (‘the pious and the learned’)

On the other hand those who enlighten themselves need no extraneous help. It is wrong to insist upon the idea that we cannot obtain liberation without the assistance of the pious and learned. It is by our innate wisdom that we enlighten ourselves, and even the extraneous help and instruction of a pious and learned friend would be of no use so long as one is deluded by false doctrines and erroneous views.

Tom: ie. it is possible for illumination to occur without an outer teacher as the true wisdom of enlightenment is our very nature. How can this be done? All we have to do is realise our true nature, what Hui Neng here calls ‘Essence of Mind’, and we will certainly and immediately be Buddhas, let us see:

As we introspect our minds with Prajñā, all erroneous views will disappear of themselves, and just as soon as we realise Essence of Mind we will immediately arrive at the Buddha stage.

Tom: Hui Neng states that if we look within at our true nature or ‘minds’ with Prajna, all erroneous views or ignorance will disappear spontaneously, and this is realisation of Essence of Mind or True Nature, and this is also the same a Buddhahood or enlightenment. So, how ‘introspect with prajna’? Hui Neng will explain. Prajna means wisdom or insight:

When we use Prajñā for introspection we are illuminated within and without and are in position to know our own nature. To realise our own nature is to obtain fundamental liberation. To obtain liberation is to attain the Samadhi of Prajñā, which is ‘thoughtlessness’.

Tom: Hui Neng explains that realising our true nature is liberation. This is also known as ‘thoughtlessness’. What is this ‘thoughtlessness’? Let us see:

What is ‘thoughtlessness? ‘Thoughtlessness’ is to see and to realise all dharmas (things) with a mind free from attachment. In action Prajñā is everywhere present yet it “sticks” nowhere. What we have to do is to so purify the mind that the six vijnanas (aspects of consciousness sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, mentation) in passing through their six sense-gates will neither be defiled by nor attached to their six sense-objects. When our mind works freely without any hindrance and is at liberty “to come” or “to go, “then we have attained the intuitive insight of Prajñā, which is emancipation. To enable one to attain such a mental state of freedom is the function of intuitive insight.

Tom: In summary Hui Neng is stating that when the mind functions free from attachment to both gross and subtle objects, that is liberation. This non-attachment is also known as ‘thoughtlessness’. We can see this is in keeping with the Buddha’s more classical teachings which essentially state the same. We can also see this is in keeping with the Vedanta teachings in which lack of identification with and attachment to the body, mind and world is the same as Self-Realisation.

Sri Ramana Maharshi states the following in Maharshi’s Gospel, Chapter 3 entitled ‘Mind Control‘:

Questioner: Does Bhagavan condemn dvaita Philosophy?

Sri Ramana Maharshi :Dvaita can subsist only when you identify the Self with the not-Self. Advaita is non-identification.

Now Hui Neng will tell us what not to do:

To refrain from thinking of anything, in the sense that all mental activity is suppressed, is to be Dharma-ridden; this is an extremely erroneous view. (Discriminative thought which leads to desire and attachment, or to aversion and defilement, is to be controlled in the interests of intuitive thought which leads to self-realisation and freedom.)

Those who understand the way of ‘thoughtlessness’ will know everything; they will have the experience that all the Buddhas have had, and they will attain Buddhahood.


Tom: later on in the same chapter Hui Neng quotes a long verse that he composed himself for the benefit of those listening to him – here are a couple of excerpts I have chosen to quote here:

To illumine our gloomy tabernacle, which is stained by defilement,

We should constantly set up the Light of Wisdom.


Erroneous views keep us in defilement

While right views remove us from it,

But when we are in a position to discard both of them

We are then absolutely pure.

… and….

Right views are called ‘transcendental’;

Erroneous views are called ‘worldly’.

When all views, right or erroneous, are discarded

Then the essence of Bodhi appears.

This stanza is for the ‘Sudden’ School.

The path of insight

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Take the time to presently notice your thoughts without judging or suppressing them. Then, gently, question the underlying motivation and reason behind the thoughts. You will see that most of your thoughts, perhaps, are egoic, that is they are geared towards finding fulfilment and pleasure through subtle and gross objects and experiences.

But where do you need to go to find deep lasting peace? Is it to be found elsewhere? Or is it right here and now, fully manifest when this egoic movement is no longer in effect?

This is the path of insight, which, over time, leads to a natural unforced non-egoic stillness.

The root cause of suffering – a radical teaching

So the volunteer who usually edits and puts together my videos is no longer able to do so. This has resulted in me surfing the internet and learning how to edit videos myself! Below is my first video, edited and put together by…well…me! It was recorded live during Thursday’s online meeting, so the picture quality is not as good as it could be. Subscribe to the YouTube channel if you want to receive more of these videos, tell me what you think and enjoy 🙂

ps. if you know anyone who would be willing to help edit videos for me please let me know, with thanks 🙏