One of the central figures of classical advaita vedAnta is the AchArya gauDapAda. Hagiographic tradition holds that gauDacharaNa was the paramaguru of the great advaitAchArya shaMkara bhagavatpAda (and guru of govinda bhagavatpAda). This is confirmed by shaMkara in his concluding praise of the guru-s in poetic verse in his commentary on the mANDukya kArika-s (second last verse from bhAShya on 4.100):
praj~nA vaishAkha vedha kShubhita jala nidher vedanAmno .antarasthaM bhUtAnyAlokya magnAnya virata janana grAha ghore samudre |
kAruNyAd uddadhArAmR^itam idam amarair durlabhaM bhUta hetor yastaM pUjyAbhi pUjyaM paramagurum amuM pAda pAtair nato.asmi ||
Falling at his feet, I salute the most worship-worthy of worship-worthy, the paramaguru, who for the good of beings, out his kindness has extracted this nectar [the mANDukya kArika-s], difficult to obtain even for the immortals, from the midst of the ocean known as the veda, churned by the insertion of the churning rod in the form of his intellect, seeing the beings sinking in the dreadful ocean of the enmeshment of the [cycle of] death and rebirth.
Tradition declares gauDapAda as being a student of the shUka, the son of vyAsa. This anachronistic legend obscures the advaita tradition before gauDapAda. Nevertheless, we do have some clues regarding the period in which he might have operated. Indeed as several scholars have pointed out he is engaged in countering the views of the bauddha-s. So he must be placed after the tathAgata siddhArtha. Importantly, he mentions statements pertaining to the Sanskritic bauddha tradition. So he must be placed after the composition of the saMskR^ita sUtra-s of the bauddha-s. In this regard, he is seen to paraphrase statements made by the tAthAgata-s like nAgArjuna and asa~Nga (before 500 CE). In turn gauDapAda is cited by tAthAgata-s like bhAvaviveka (before 600 CE) and shaNtarakShita (before 750 CE). While some scholars have suggested that the nAstika yashomitra was cited by gauDa, this claim appears unlikely. Putting these together we are of the opinion that he lived in the 500s of the common era. Several students have also noticed a web of citations closely linking dharmapAla, bhAvaviveka, bhaTTa kumArila and dharmakIrti suggesting that they were all also temporally in the a window close to gauDapAda. Thus, by association we opine that shaMkara bhagavatpAda lived in the 600s of the CE and not the 700s, as accepted by the government of India and many others.
Certain sections of white indological opinion and their imitators have posited that this period marks the beginning of classical vedAnta itself. In large part they see classical vedAnta as being an imitation of or as a reaction to bauddha thought. Most of them tend to claim that even the brahmasUtra-s and the bhagavadgItA took shape after siddhArtha the tathAgata; the more extreme in their midst claim that texts like the mANDukyopaniShad and the brahmasUtra-s were themselves actually composed by authors around this period under discussion (i.e. 500-700 CE). From the view point of the texts themselves one thing is clear. The brahmasUtra-s had already been composed at the time of the bhagavad-gItA because they are clearly mentioned in the latter text:
R^iShibhir bahudhA gItAM Chandobhir vividhaiH pR^ithak |
brahmasUtra-padaish chaiva hetumadbhir vinishchitaiH || (Mbh-”critical” 06.35.4)
In manifold ways it has been recited by the R^iShi-s in various different ways in the meters of the veda; in the sentences of the brahmasUtra-s it has been presented conclusively with arguments.
From this it is clear that the vedAnta of the bhagavadgItA follows the tradition of the veda (i.e. including the upaniShad-s), formalized in the brahmasUtra-s. Further, since the authors of the brahma-sUtra-s and the mImAmsa-sUtra-s multiply cite each other these two were composed in temporal proximity being aware of each other. The names of the authorities cited in the brahmasUtra-s and mImAmsasUtra-s are also seen in the shrauta sUtra-s. So it is likely that these sUtra-s are temporally closer to the shrauta formalization in the late Vedic period, i.e. after the mantra and brAhmaNa portions of different veda-s had been canonized as the shruti. Hence, there is not much doubt that these texts are far more ancient than the period of the classical vedAnta authors. Summarizing this information, we can place the relative order as being: the brAhmaNa-s (with upaniShad-s)-> the shrauta sUtra-s-> the mImAmsa and brahma sUtra-s-> the bhagavadgItA-> the later classical vedAnta authors (bhartR^ihari-> gauDapAda-> shaMkara). Thus, we can say with confidence that the brahmasUtra-s indeed mark the beginning of *classical* vedAnta (distinguished from the upaniShad-s and associated brAhmaNa portions of the shruti because they are precursors of all the traditional darshana-s [Footnote 1]), with the bhagavadgItA coming thereafter.
Now where does the tathAgata fit in all this? Here is where the arguments get a bit a subtle and cannot be understood by those who lack more than cursory familiarity with these systems. First, as we have argued before there is congruence of Hindu tradition regarding the position of shuddhodhana-putra. The paurANika testimony places him late and in the context of rulers whom he alludes to as his contemporaries. The aupaniShada rulers are not mentioned as his contemporaries. Indeed, the buddha mentions aupaniShada characters only as historical figures associated with his former incarnations. Likewise, the central characters of the bhArata, the harivaMsha and the rAmAyaNa are historical figures known to siddhArtha, but in large part they are absent in the upaniShad-s, which however contain personalities that predate core characters of these epics. Thus, he certainly post-dates the upaniShad-s [Footnote 1]. Importantly, the buddha was aware of them, and though not directly mentioning them by name, he cites sentences from them in pAli translation or paraphrase on multiple occasions. While his mentions of aupaniShada ideas generally assume a caricatured form with express objective of debunking the vaidika and aupaniShada teachings, they contain some important important points that allow understanding the buddha-s temporal position vis-a-vis the rest of the tradition.
For example, let us consider the tevijja sutta, the veda-virodhaka buddha engages in his usual brAhmaNa-bashing by explicitly caricaturing and attacking vedAnta. Here his target is specifically the doctrine of vedAnta with its objective of brahma-jij~nyAsa: He compares brahma-ji~nyAsa taught by brAhmaNa-s to the fascination of a man for an imaginary girl of greatest beauty who does not exist in reality. Here he has two young brAhmaNa-s of the bharadvAja and vasiShTha clans debate regarding a teaching pertaining to the attainment of union with the brahman (caricatured as the masculine brahmA in the nAstika sutta; a literal interpretation of aupaniShada phrases like: gachChed brahmasalokatAM). They say in the vulgar pAli:
“ayameva ujumaggo ayama~njasAyano niyyANiko niyyAti takkarassa brahma-sahavyatAya”
This is the straight path, this the direct way which makes for salvation, and leads him, who acts according to it, into a state of union with brahmA.
This is said to be taught by brAhmaNa-s such as puShkarasAdi and tArkShya, albeit in different ways. From this it is clear that at the time of the tathAgata the idea of the union with the brahman was well-established among brAhmaNa-s and the mode of this attainment debated in their midst. This view of the vaidika brAhmaNa-s, with the characteristic term brahma-sahavyatA in the bauddha canon reproduces the concept encountered in the upaniShad-s and formalized in the brahma-sUtra-s such as: “brahmaNaH sAyujyaM” or “asminn asya cha tadyogaM shAsti | BS 1.1.19”
Further the two brAhmaNa-s are shown to question each other thus:
“brAhmaNA nAnAmagge pa~n~nApenti addhariyA brAhmaNA, tittiriyA brAhmaNA, ChandokA brAhmaNA, bavahirichA brAhmaNA, atha kho sabbAni tAni niyyANikAni niyyanti takkarassa brahma-sahavyatAya”
Different brAhmaNa-s, teach various paths. The adhvaryava, the taittirIya, the ChAndogya and the bahvR^icha brAhmaNa-s Are all those saving paths? Are they all paths which will lead him, who acts according to them, into a state of union with brahma?
They answer this question by stating that just as near a village there are various paths, yet they all meet together in the village thus all the vaidika teaching lead to union with the brahma. The key points to note here are that the tathAgata is well aware of the diversity of vaidika shAkhA-s and the fact that despite their diversity their teaching is seen by brAhmaNa-s as a unified teaching that leads to the unity with the brahman. This is important because it indicates that in his times the vaidika traditions had been canonized as a unified shruti and it implies that the teachings of the multiple upaniShad-s of the various shAkhA-s were seen as pointing in the same direction.
Here we may also note what is stated in the same sutta in the context of the tathAgata trying to discredit the ancient R^iShi-s of the veda. Here he questions the brAhmaNa of the vasiShTha clan as to whether the ancient R^iShi-s had really attained unity with brahman:
kiM pana vAseTTha ye.api tevijjAnaM brAhmaNAnaM pubbakA isayo mantAnaM kattAro mantAnaM pavattAro yesam idaM etarahi tevijjA brAhmaNA porANaM mantapadaM gItaM pavuttaM samUhitaM tad anugAyanti tad anubhAsanti bhAsitam anubhAsanti vAchitam anuvAchenti, seyyathIdaM: aTTako vAmako vAmadevo vessAmitto yamataggi a~Ngiraso bhAradvAjo vAseTTho kassapo bhagu, te.api evam AhaMsu: mayam etaM jAnAma mayam etaM passAma yattha vA brahmA yena vA brahmA yahiM vA brahmA.ati?
Well then, vAsiShTha, those ancient R^ishis of the brAhmaNa-s versed in the trayi-vidyA, the makers of mantra-s, the utterers of mantra-s, whose, ancient form of words so sung, taught and collected, the trayividyA-knowing brAhmaNa-s of today sing or recite repeatedly; reciting exactly as has been intoned and expounded, namely, aShThaka, vAmaka, vAmadeva, vishvAmitra, jamadagni, a~Ngirasa, bhAradvAja, the vasiShTha-s, kashyapa, and bhR^igu did even they speak thus, saying: “We know it, we have seen it, what brahman is, whence brahman issue forth, where brahman is?
What this indicates is that the veda teachings are already know to be ancient as being created in the past by the R^iShi-s and subsequent collected into saMhitA-s by the brAhmaNa-s and accurately preserved by them. The teaching of the brahman is associated with brAhmaNa-s who revere this shruti corpus which is already regarded as ancient.
Here we may also note case of the alagaddUpama sutta, where the tathAgata explicitly alludes to the teaching of the brAhmaNa-s of the form: etam mama | eso.aham asmi |eso me attA || ‘This is mine; I am this; this is my Atman” and condemns it as a fallacy (This resembles a segment of the sAMkhyA kArikA 64 in an inverted form) and appears to have have been an old explanation by brAhmaNa-s of the aupaniShada teachings like so.aham asmi and tat tvam asi.
These observations fit with the buddha’s general familiarity with the shruti and his appropriation of numerous vaidika terms and concepts. However, while superficially imitating several vaidika trappings, he subverts them by inserting two diametrically opposite constructs of his own: 1) construct of anatta (anAtman), which is directly opposed to the concept of Atman explored in the upaniShad-s but formalized in the brahmasUtra-s. This is consistent with the above observation that he attacks the brAhmaNa-s who have already have canonized the upaniShad teachings of the different vaidika shAkhA-s as a unified shruti, which is the base position of the brahma-sUtra-s. 2) The idea that his ArSha teaching (the sutta-s=sUkta-s) needed to be in pAli and not the devabhAShA. The buddha explicitly rejected the proposal of brAhmaNa-s to cast his ArSha words in Chandas. In this act he was specifically subverting via inversion the central premise of the mImAmsa darshana that the eternal shruti was in deva-bhAShA. He did this even as he appropriated the central tenet of the jaiminIya sUtra-s, dharma. This suggests that he was not only familiar with the old upaniShad and brAhmaNa tradition, but also their subsequent formalized evolutes, namely the tradition represented by the brahma-sUtra-s and jaiminIya sUtra-s. Taken together, the closeness of the darshana sUtra traditions to the vaidika period (argued above), and the buddha’s subversive attack on the darshana-s formalized in them, suggest that these two darshana sUtra-s are likely to predate him. As an aside, if we say take historically unreliable, but very conservative, testimony of the kathAsaritsAgara regarding AchArya upavarsha being close to the nanda epoch, then we have an early commentator on the brahmasUtra-s pretty close to the epoch of the tathAgata. This is not inconsistent with the brahma-sUtra-s themselves predating the tathAgata. So we have: brAhmaNa/upaniShad-s-> mImAmsa+brahma sUtra-s-> tathAgata’s pAli sermons.
So what is the relationship of the bhagavadgItA with respect to the tathAgata? The mainstream white indological opinion and its imitations have tended to insist on a young shruti (~1200 BCE). Thereby it places the upaniShad-s much closer to the tathAgata’s age, even if some white indologists and their mimics are willing to concede that the bR^ihadAraNyaka, chAndogya and taittirIya were probably pre-buddha in date. Nevertheless, in this worldview the rAmAyaNa, the mahAbhArata, the bhagavadgIta and the like are certainly placed in a post-buddha epoch. However, to an unbiased observer it is clear that the core mahAbhArata is likely to be pre-buddha in date. Yet, one might raise the question about the bhagavadgIta because it certainly is an insert in the core mahAbhArata. But it should be noted that the multiple mahAbhArata inserts are of considerable age, even if they post-date the core. So the gItA being an insert does not automatically make it post-buddha and the issue must be looked at separately. Now, several students have noticed that there are specific similarities between the bhagavadgItA and the buddha’s teachings, which are over and beyond the general aupaniShada background (which we will return to). In the view of the white indological wisdom and its imitations, these similarities are necessarily a reflection of the gItA borrowing or reflecting the ideas that have become prevalent due the buddha’s teaching [Footnote 2].
In terms of bauddha literature we find evidence for the knowledge of the bhagavadgItA in the early mAdhyamika stream of mahAyAna. The famous Astika-virodhaka of this school Aryadeva who is dated to roughly 250 CE gives an account of several Astika systems. Here in he states (translated from Chinese by the Japanese scholar Nakamura Hajime):
The twelfth class of heretics, the followers of mAThara (a nAstika term for the epic author) say that the adherents of nArAyaNa teach as follows. “I create all things. I am the supreme one dwelling in all creatures. I create all things of the world, the living and the lifeless. Of all mountains I am the great Sumeru, the king of mountains. Of all waters I am the great ocean. Of all medicines I am the grain. Of all muni-s I am the muni kapila. If a man offers to me with devotion water, leaves, flowers or fruit, then I dwell in him and he dwells in me.” The followers of mAThara teach that the adherents of nArAyaNa speak as follows: “All beings are created and born from me, and are resolved back again into me. This is nirvANa. Thus, I am eternal and the cause of nirvANa.”
Thus, the gItA was clearly in place by 250 CE. But how far before it was it in place? For this we have to look at the school to which the gItA belongs. In the later classical vedAnta the gItA was treated as one of the three authorities along side the shrauta-smArta sources. It was also widely acknowledged by diverse teachers of other schools, including the kaula tAntrika abhinavagupta. Thus, there is a prevalent belief, even in the Hindu world, that the gItA was a non-sectarian text. However, close examination reveals that it is squarely a text of the proto-pA~ncharAtrika bhAgavata or sAtvata tradition, which bears a clear relationship to the nArAyaNIya section of same school that was also inserted into the mahAbhArata.
For example we have:
bahUnAM janmanAm ante j~nAnavAn mAM prapadyate |
vAsudevaH sarvam iti sa mahAtmA sudurlabhaH || BhG 7.19
At the end of many births the wise one attains me, [the realization that] all [existence] is vAsudeva; he is a great one, difficult to find.
Here, the bhagavadgItA makes it very clear that the final destination after exiting from the cycle of births and deaths is vAsudeva, who is the supreme entity and ultimate basis of reality in the bhAgavata tradition.
Then the gItA clarifies:
kAmais taistair hR^itaj~nAnAH prapadyante .anya devatAH |
taM taM niyamam AsthAya prakR^ityA niyatAH svayA || BhG 7.20
Those deprived of wisdom, due to one or another desire, go to other deities, following one or the other ritual injunctions, led by their own nature.
ye. apy anya devatA bhaktA yajante shraddhayAnvitAH |
te .api mAmeva kaunteya yajanty avidhipUrvakaM ||BhG 9.23
Even the worshipers, who with conviction worship other deities, worship only me, O son of kunti, but with the incorrect procedures.
sarva dharmAn parityajya mAm ekaM sharaNaM vraja |
ahaM tvA sarva pApebhyo mokShayiShyAmi mA shuchaH || BhG 18.66
Forsaking all other dharma-s, come under my refuge alone; I will liberate you from all sins; have no sorrow.
In conjunction with the earlier verse, the above verses clarify that the clear sectarian orientation of bhAgavata tradition. The gItA provides the express injunction that the other dharma-s are have to be forsaken for the dharma of vAsudeva and that even those who worship using other deities are merely worshiping vAsudeva using the wrong rituals. The gItA and the nArAyaNIya are the earliest extant doctrinal texts of this tradition that underwent much evolution in its subsequent history, but always retained this characteristic sectarian orientation.
Evidence for the worship of vAsudeva and baladeva, besides other deities appears in the bauddha niddesa, which is ascribed to the shAriputra, the brAhmaNa disciple of the tathAgata. This text, contrary to the assertions of the Jewish indologist Levi, can be placed in the mauryan period around 250-300 BCE. This is consistent with mention of the worship of the saMkarShaNa in another mauryan era text, the arthashAstra. Likewise, pata~njali who is approximately from the same period also mentions the worship of vAsudeva. This is further corroborated by the record of Megasthenes that vAsudeva (the Indian Herakles) was worshiped in Mathura by the shUrasena-s. Thus, multiple lines of evidence make it amply clear that the bhAgavata dharma was active and well-established around 200 years of the epoch of the buddha. Given that the bauddha and jaina dharma took around 200 years to achieve prominence, i.e. by the mauryan epoch, in the extreme case the bhAgavata dharma could have arisen around the time of the buddha or mahAvIra. This would accordingly imply, that the gItA should have arisen at least coevally with the nAstikamata-s, making it unlikely to be a reflex responding to their heterodox teaching. Now, we have evidence that the tathAgata was well aware of vAsudeva. In fact in the ghata jAtaka (J 454) the buddha mentions him along side balabhadra, pradyumna, other deities humanized as his brothers and the goddess ekAnaMshA (a~njanA-devI). The whole story is explicitly to demote vAsudeva and show ghata, a former incarnation of the buddha, as the teacher of the deluded and grieving vAsudeva (this parallels the jaina attempt to insert the ficticious ariShTanemi as a proto-jaina teacher of vAsudeva). Importantly, in this jAtaka, vAsudeva is mentioned as teaching the people a shAstra before his death at the hands of the hunter jara. Further, vAsudeva and his marriage to jAmbavatI is also mentioned by the tathAgata in the mahA-ummagga jAtaka (J 546) and consistent with the earlier account he is described as being one of ten brothers that include the vyUha-s. Thus, we can conclude that the tathAgata was very much aware not only of vAsudeva and the vyUha-s but also the fact that he taught a shAstra. Furthermore, it is also clear that he was aware of the stories of the mahAbhArata and harivaMsha and the existence of ekAnaMshA. Now, ekAnaMshA joins the bhAgavata pantheon after the layer represented by the gItA and the nArAyaNIya section. Hence, the tathAgata was dealing with a fairly developed version of the bhAgavata system. In this regard we may also point out that the jaina apocrypha mention that maskarin goshAla and mahAvIra stayed at a temple of vAsudeva and baladeva in the 5th year of their ascetic wanderings. While apocryphal, the whole prAkR^ita account does not have anything else untoward or inconsistent, suggesting that it is recording a real tradition, which is consistent with our view that the worship of vAsudeva and balabhadra was already in place by the time of the buddha and the nagna. This implicitly means that he post-dated the bhagavad-gItA. There is really nothing peculiar in this suggestion, other than it running contrary to conventional white indological tradition. In light of the above discussion we must see the specific similarities between the bauddha and bhAgavata systems not as borrowings of the latter from the former, but either as descent from a common memetic pool or as borrowings in the reverse order.
We shall now consider some of these similarities.
The charioteer motif: It is interesting to note the charioteer motif in both the gItA and the bauddha teachings. Of course the motif of the charioteer is central the very plot of the gItA, where kR^iShNa, the incarnate vAsudeva provides counsel to indra’s son. In the the bauddha world the buddha appears to use the conversation between indra and mAtali the charioteer of indra in several sermons to introduce the bauddha dharma and to subtly demote the great indra of the veda-s. For example, in the gahaTThAvandana sutta, the tathAgata has indra himself worship someone else. He does this by subtly altering an old praise of indra. He begins in vulgar pAli:
mAtali sa~NgAhako sakkaM devAnamindaM gAthAya ajjhabhAsi |
mAtali the charioteer addressed shakra the indra of the gods with with this verse.
taM namassanti tevijjA sabbe bhUmmA cha khattiyA, chattAro cha mahArAjA tidasA cha yasassino |
All these worship you, the knowers of the trayi-vidyA, the kShatriya reigning on earth, the four great kings and the glorious Thirty.
But then he demotes indra by stating that:
atha kho nAma so yakkho yaM tvaM sakka namassasIti ?
Who then is that yakSha to whom you O shakra offer obeisance?
Here, the tathAgata, in his demotion of indra, is using a motif from the kena upaniShad of the yakSha whom indra worships. In the kena it used to establish knowledge of the brahman as the cause for indra’s supremacy, while the buddha predictably alters it make the bauddha-dharma the cause of indra’s supremacy. When asked by mAtali who he was worshiping, the tathAgata gradually let us know that indra worships the good souls observing the bauddha path all the way to the arihant and the buddha himself.
But the most striking parallel to the gItA is seen in the vepachitti (viprachitti) sutta of the samyutta nikAya. Here viprachitti was defeated by indra and was brought captive and bound by the deva-s to the presence of indra. Then viprachitti started making obscene remarks towards the deva-s. Then mAtali tells indra that it would appear to be sign of his weakness if he did let such abuses of viprachitti pass. But indra replies that an enlightened being like him does not care for the words of fools. Thereafter mAtali counsels indra that not suppressing the evil doers will only encourage them to commit further crimes. But indra advises that remaining calm and silent at the anger and abuse of others is the best way to control it. Thereupon mAtali proposes that not crushing the asura will not only show the gods to be cowards but will also earn them infamy as losers. To this indra explains that fame or infamy, praise or slander are all inconsequential to an enlightened soul. Actually to resist anger with brutality is the true sign of weakness, whereas forbearance is the true mark of an enlightened one.
This account is striking because it points to the possible presence of an old charioteer narrative that was between indra and mAtali, in the context of the devAsura yuddha, in which a doctrinal point was potentially discussed. Indeed support for such an ancient narrative is further supported by the presence of a vestige of it even in the rAmAyaNa (yuddha kANDa 108). Here indra sends down mAtali with his own chariot and weapons to help rAma kill rAvaNa in their final encounter. After a prolonged fight rAma is still unable to overcome rAvana, with the two being evenly matched. At this point mAtali counsels rAma to not delay the battle further and to kill rAvana using the brahma missile. We suspect that the ancestral charioteer narrative was the common source that was differentially modified by the bauddha-s and the bhAgavata-s in different directions to make their own points: We believe that the bauddha-s appear to have retained the old structure the narrative as being between indra and mAtali, but modified it to have indra authorize the bauddha teaching of ahimsavAda. On the other hand the bhAgavata-s (who in parallel try to establish the primacy of vAsudeva at the expense of indra) transposed this motif conveniently into the context of vAsudeva being the charioteer of indra’s son. But here it is vAsudeva the charioteer and not indra’s son who delivers the definitive teaching. Importantly, the teaching here is opposite to the bauddha position on number of issues. In this respect we believe that the bhAgavatgItA probably preserves a message closer to the ancestral narrative. We suspect that the bauddha version was specifically an attempt at inverting the message preserved in the gItA.
Some of the other similarities could be similar inheritances from a common memetic pool, but we do feel that a subset are representative of actual influence. This need not mean a direct interaction between the bhAgavata-s and the buddha. More likely it was material filtering down to him through the sUta oral literature and we will briefly consider few such.
The principle of sharaNAgati:
As seen in the above verse and also illustrated in the below examples vAsudeva repeatedly states in the gItA that the ultimate soteriological pathway is that of seeking refuge in him.
tameva sharaNaM gachCha sarvabhAvena bhArata |
tat prasAdAt parAM shAntiM sthAnaM prApsyasi shAshvatam || BhG 18.62
Go unto him [vAsudeva] for refuge with your complete apprehension, O bhArata; by his favor you shall obtain the supreme peace and the eternal state (i.e. nirvANa).
We may also note an interesting phrase in statement:
dUreNa hya varaM karma buddhiyogAd dhana~njaya |
buddhau sharaNam anvichCha kR^ipaNAH phalahetavaH || BhG 2.49
Here vAsudeva explains that the buddhiyoga is far superior to the karma performed by the wretched with the attachment to fruits as their sole motive. Hence, he asks one to take refuge in the state of the enlightened mind (buddhau sharaNam anvichCha).
Further he explains that:
buddhi-yukto jahAtIha ubhe sukR^ita duShkR^ite |
tasmAd yogAya yujyasva yogaH karmasu kaushalam || BhG 2.50
United with the enlightened mind, one right away casts off [karmic account of] both good and bad deeds; therefore, unite yourself with yogic practice; it the skillful means of action.
In practical terms, vAsudeva advises that the skillful means of action is a mental yoga that allows one to take refuge in the enlightened state, where one is not attached to fruits of action bound by neither good nor bad deeds. The key points to note are that the refuge in vAsudeva, the skillful means to attain enlightenment, which provides the aspirant the ultimate refuge are closely paralleled in bauddha thought. This is in part encapsulated in the famous tisaraNa of their mata:
buddhaM saraNaM gachChAmi | dhammaM saraNaM gachChAmi | sa~NghaM saraNaM gachChAmi ||
The superficially dual nature of the refuge is preserved in both the systems: the bhAgavata-s take refuge in both vAsudeva (in a sense extrinsically) and within themselves by buddhiyoga. Likewise the tAthAgata-s externally take refuge in the buddha, the partially enlightened saMgha and the dharma, but in the dhammapada 160 the buddha clarifies that one saraNa internally in process comparable to the buddhi yoga of the bhAgavata-s. Similarly, in parallel to the kaushalam mentioned by vAsudeva the buddha also places great emphasis on upAya-kaushalya.
The nirvANa concept:
In the BhG vAsudeva explains the attainment of nirvANa on practicing yoga thus:
yu~njannevaM sadAtmAnaM yogI niyata mAnasaH |
shAntiM nirvANa paramAM matsaMsthAm adhigachChati || BhG 6.15
Thus, always his mind united [in yoga], the yogin, with the mind controlled, attain peace, the ultimate liberation [nirvANa], entering into me.
Likewise, he also explains:
yo .antaH sukho .antar ArAmas tathAntar jyotir eva yaH |
sa yogI brahma nirvANaM brahma bhUto.adhigachChati ||BhG 5.24
He who is happy within, who rests within, and he who is illumined within, such a yogin attains the dissolution into brahman [nirvANa], himself becoming the brahman.
The nirvANa concept developed by the bhAgavata-s is clearly a continuation of the aupaniShada vedAnta, wherein the dissolution in brahman or becoming brahman is described. Interestingly, the tAthagata application of the term nirvANa being very close to its Astika counterpart. The buddha in the dhamma-chakkap-pavattana sutta of the samyutta nikAya states:
ayaM kho sA bhikkhave, majjhimA paTipadA tathAgatena abhisambuddhA chakkhu-karaNI ~nANa-karaNI upasamAya abhi~n~nAya sambodhAya nibbAnAya saMvattati |
This, bikShu-s, is that middle way awakened to by the tathAgata, which gives rise to enlightened vision (compare with j~nAna-chakShuShA in BhG 13.35), which gives rise to higher knowledge, which leads to peace, higher awareness to full awakening, to nirvANa.
Similarly, one may consider the recitation of the buddha in the kevaDDha sutta of the dIgha-nikAya. Here the tathAgata provides an alternative to the brahman of the aupaniShada-s and the gItA, which the Astika-s following those systems see as the ultimate essence. It turns out that the description of his alternative, which is implied to be state of nirvANa is not very different (of course prior to this he caricatures the brahman of the Astika-s). In the vulgar pAli:
vi~n~nANaM anidassanaM anantaM sabbato pahaM |
ettha Apo cha paThavI tejo vAyo na gAdhati |
ettha dIgha~n cha rassa~n cha aNuM thUlaM subhAsubhaM |
ettha nAma~n cha rUpa~n cha asesaM uparujjhati |
vi~n~nANassa nirodhena etthetaM uparujjhatIti ||
idamavocha bhagavA ||
Consciousness without subject-object distinction, endless, luminous all around;
Here water, earth, fire, and air have no hold.
Here larger and small magnitudes, atomic and gross matter, good and bad;
Here name and form are all brought to an end.
With the stilling of consciousness each is here brought to an end.
So spoke the bhagavAn.
Thus, the tathAgata follows his Astika counterparts in characterizing the nirvANa state as a higher awareness, accompanied by a state of deep peace and luminous enlightenment. However, this sits rather paradoxically with the anatta (anAtman) concept of theirs. Hence, the tathAgata has to further explain it as the state of the chitta that no longer clings to the sense of I. This indicates that the tathAgata is not the innovator with respect to the idea of nirvANa and he merely tries to adjust it slightly to fit his more radical subversion in the form of the concept of anAtman. This, taken together with the observation that the jaina-s also speak of nirvANa of their founder mahAvIra around the same time as the tathAgata, indicates that the idea predates the two of them. We posit that we need to look no further than the gItA for an Astika precursor of the term, which was adapted by the nAstika-s for their purposes, after having acquired it from the broader community of Astika ascetics in which they were embedded.
The non-sacrifice of animals:
The bhagavadgItA states:
yAnti deva-vratA devAn pitR^In yAnti pitR^i-vratAH |
bhUtAni yAnti bhUtejyA yAnti madyAjino.api mAm ||
The worshipers of the deva-s go to deva-s; those of ancestors go to the ancestors; the worshipers of bhUta-s go the bhUta-s; my worshipers come to me.
patraM puShpaM phalaM toyaM yo me bhaktyA prayachChati |
tadahaM bhakty upahR^itam ashnAmi prayatAtmanaH || BhG 9.25-26
Whoever offers me with devotion and with the right sentiment, a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water I accept that.
Here vAsudeva clarifies that the worshipers of him alone come to him and for them it suffices to make “vegetarian” offerings with devotion to vAsudeva. This injunction fits well with the discourse in the nArAyaNIya section wherein we are informed of the sAtvatta ritual of vasu uparichara. He is said to have followed the sAtvatta tradition where no animals were sacrificed and only vegetarian offerings were made. In this rite, while the other deva-s appeared visibly to accept their offerings, vAsudeva alone invisibly accepted the oblations. It is said that the deva-s and brAhmaNa-s had a heated debate as to whether animals should be sacrificed. The deva-s favored animal sacrifices, whereas the brAhmaNa-s supported vegetarian offerings. The brAhmaNa-s asked vasu uparichara to umpire the debate. He said that the position of the deva-s was correct. In anger the brAhmaNa-s laid a spell on him and he lost the airplane that indra had given him and fell into a deep hole beneath the ground. The deva-s however sustained him in that hole by diverting to him the tasty ghee offerings of the vasordhAra made with the recitation of the chamaka-prashna of the yajurveda. Sustained by these, he worshiped nArAyaNa who sent garuDa to restore him to the higher realms. These tales illustrate that there was a movement within the brAhmaNa-s to move away from animal sacrifice and this was closely associated with the rise of the bhAgavata tradition. Both the buddha and the tIrthaMkara condemn the animal sacrifices of the vaidika tradition. The simultaneous emergence of this trait in both the two nAstika-mata-s right at their origination suggests that it was “in the air” and acquired by them from an ancestral tradition. Here again it is more likely that the bhAgavata tradition had moved first in the direction of opposing animal sacrifice within the Astika fold. Hence, it is more parsimonious to simply posit an origin for this trait in the Astika fold followed by continuity without innovation by both major nAstika traditions of the magadha country, and also probably that of maskarin goshAla (despite him being painted in bad light by the jaina-s).
In conclusion, white indological confusion in chronology has resulted in considerable obfuscation of the developments in vedAnta and the nAstika mata-s. Thus, rather than being reflexes to the bauddha or jaina developments it is more likely that the ancient upaniShad-s [Footnote 1], the brahmasUtra-s and the bhagavadgItA actually precede the nAstika-mata-s. The nAstika-mata-s were, in part, simply exaggerating earlier divergences that were occurring withing the Astika fold. Rather than continuing to identifying themselves with the Astika tradition (as the bhAgavata-s did despite their divergence) they simply chose to break away from it. It is precisely for this reason that the white indologists and their mimics are wrong when they claim there was no “Hinduism” then for Hindus to claim that the buddha was born a Hindu. Of course the word Hinduism did not exist then, but the Astika identity was very clear. It is precisely because of that identity that the early shaiva-s and vaiShNava-s (bhAgavata-s and others) chose to reaffirm their links to the veda despite their radical divergences from the norms of the shruti (this Astika identity has also evolved over time, but it is exactly that which goes under the name Hindu today; only willful subversionists would deny that). In contrast to the divergent sectarian Astika-s, the nAstika-s explicitly chose to spurn this identity or subversively redefine it. The buddha and his successors took the later route. Hence, rather than outright rejecting the trayi-vidyA of the Astika-s the tathAgata chose to make a claim that what the brAhmaNa-s considered trayividyA was not the real thing; instead, he claimed his teaching to be the real ArSha teaching. As the Astika identity, irrespective of the divisions within the Astika fold, rested on the shruti, the tathAgata chose to focus on the shruti and its chief proponents the mImAmsaka-s and the aupaniShada-s. It is precisely because of this tradition among the bauddha-s that the much later classical vedAntin-s like gauDapAda and shaMkara chose to defend the root of their tradition. But it is clear from the tathAgata’s own attack on aupaniShada strawmen that his critique of them was not really sophisticated. Thus, it is possible that the earlier vedAntin-s were not too bothered about developing refutations of the bauddha attacks on their system. But we know from the dashabhUmivibhAShA-shAstra of nAgArjuna (~150-200 CE) both vedAntin-s and mImAmsaka-s were launching a vigorous defense against the bauddha attacks. But even here nAgArjuna appears more pressed by the attacks of the mImAmsaka-s.
Finally, it should be noted that the bhAgavata tradition was also expanding in the mean time. Its early innovation was social universality, which is clear in the bhagavad-gItA itself, embracing followers across the castes and sexes. In contrast, over the same period mImAMsa and vedAnta evolved towards greater restriction, with the former being largely restricted to brAhmaNa-s and kShatriya-s and the latter brAhmaNa males. The bauddha tradition paralleled the social inclusiveness of the bhAgavata tradition [Footnote 3]. This sociological dimension might have not escaped the eyes of the mImAMsaka-s and vedAntin-s, eliciting counter-measures from them. It appears that the adoption and presentation of the bhagavad-gitA as a smArta text, rather than a unique sectarian text of the bhAgavata system, was part of this process. It is probably for this reason we see it being included along with the upaniShad-s as a source of vedAnta for the vedAntin-s with a subsequent commentarial tradition.
Footnote 1: By upaniShad-s in this context we are only referring to the ancient upaniShad-s. Most conservatively these include those that are directly connected to the brAhmaNa/mantra sections of particular vaidika shAkha-s – In our reckoning aitareya, kauShItaki, taittirIya, mahAnArAyaNa, bR^ihadAraNyaka, IshAvAsya, Chandogya, jaiminiya upaniShad brAhmaNa (JUB) certainly count as ancient upaniShad-s and are included in the set that we are discussing above. In the JUB the kena upaniShad section is a late interpolation, but still pre-buddha. We are of the opinion that the prashna is a solid ancient upaniShad that belongs to this set but appears disconnected due to loss of the brAhmaNa portion of most atharva veda shAkha-s. We also consider the shvetAshvatara as belonging to this set but within the early shaiva tradition. The proto-atharvashiras was another early upaniShad of the shaiva tradition but coming after the shvetAshvatara and is likely to belong to this set of pre-tathAgata upaniShad-s. In addition to these, we also consider the bAShkala-mantra, Chagaleya, ArSheya, shaunaka as ancient upaniShad-s of the pre-tathAgata set, which appear disconnected due to loss to their corresponding shAkhA-s. Finally, in this group we include the aupaniShada fragment of the maNDukya. We hold that the heterodox muNDaka, while widely followed by the classical vedantin-s, is of uncertain provenance.
Footnote 2: While this thinking is in part driven by the white indological fancies about Indian chronology, it may be note that is also driven in part by the overt or covert anti-Hindu bias among a subset of white indologists. In particular malicious jealousy towards brAhmaNa-s in some of them has made them happily internalize the buddha’s and the bauddha’s antipathy towards brAhmaNa-s or the orthoprax dharma. Indeed, we see an otherwise respectable buddhologist claim that Hindus want to make the buddha a Hindu and thereby minimize his importance by subsuming the bauddhamata in the overall dharma. As a evidence for this claim he cites a personal communication of a South Asianist operative in Nepal. When it comes to Hindus suddenly the standards for evidence do not matter !
Footnote 3: This is reflected to this date in the fact that the bauddha and bhAgavata parampara-s successors remain the main “missionary” groups among the dharma traditions. Both have had some success in the leukosphere and elsewhere because of this aspect of theirs. Of course the bhAgavata tradition eventually evolved a distinct mantra-mArga with a tAntrika focus and a bhakti-mArga with a vedAntika orientation (the two mArga-s were nevertheless symbiotic). The latter in particular displayed a “missionary” tendency. This inclusiveness should be differentiated from the textual inclusiveness that developed in the tAntrika systems of both the Astika-s and nAstika-s. For example one might consider the mantrashAstra of the ma~njushriya mUlakalpa where the Astika mantra-s are also claimed as being revealed by the tathAgata.