This is the third of the (eight) Buddhist verses quoted by Sri Madhvacharya in his ‘Tattvodyota’ to substantiate his stand that Advaita is not any different from Buddhism as reported by Dr.BNK Sharma:
निर्विशेषं स्वयंभातं निर्लेपमजरामरम् ।
शून्यं तत्त्वमविज्ञेयं मनोवाचामगोचरम् ॥ ३
[Without any attributes, self-effulgent, untouched by anything, devoid of old age and death, ‘shUnya’, reality, not a knowable as an object, beyond the reach of words and the mind.]
The first word in the above verse is: निर्विशेषं
It is well known that the UpaniShadic Brahman is free of all attributes. Attributes are unavoidable only to that which is created, being a product of prakRti, consisting of sattva, rajas and tamas. Being material, the created object is made up of parts and attributes such as size and shape naturally are there. However Brahman being uncreated cannot have any attributes. To teach this the Upanishad itself says:
अनाद्यनन्तं महतः परं ध्रुवं निचाय्य तन्मृत्युमुखात् प्रमुच्यते ॥ Kathopanishad 1.3.15 ॥
[Having realised Atman, which is soundless, intangible, formless, undecaying and likewise tasteless, eternal and odourless; having realised That which is without beginning and end, beyond the Great and unchanging—one is freed from the jaws of death. ]
Also the mAnDUkyopaniShat mantra 7 says:
नान्तःप्रज्ञं न बहिष्प्रज्ञं नोभयतःप्रज्ञं न प्रज्ञानघनं न प्रज्ञं नाप्रज्ञम् । अदृष्टमव्यवहार्यमग्राह्यमलक्षणं अचिन्त्यमव्यपदेश्यमेकात्मप्रत्ययसारं प्रपञ्चोपशमं शान्तं शिवमद्वैतं चतुर्थं मन्यन्ते स आत्मा स विज्ञेयः ॥ ७ ॥
Not conscious of the internal (i.e. Ātman is not the self in the dream state), nor conscious of the external (the self in the waking state), nor conscious of both (the self of reverie), not a mass of consciousness (deep sleep), not consciousness, nor unconsciousness, unseen (by the sense organs), beyond the texture of all relations, incomprehensible (by the sense bound mind), without any distinguishing mark (uninferable), unthinkable indescribable, of the essence of the consciousness of the unity of the Self, the very cessation of the world of relativity, peaceful, blissful, and non-dual— this is what is known as the Fourth (with respect to the three states). This is Atman, and it has to be realized.
In the above mantra too the Upanishad denies all attributes in Brahman/Atman.
In the following Shvetashvataropanishat mantra 6.11 too there is the specific denial of all attributes in the one important word:
एको देवः सर्वभूतेषु गूढः सर्वव्यापी सर्वभूतान्तरात्मा
कर्माध्यक्षः सर्वभूताधिवासः साक्षी चेता केवलो निर्गुणश्च .
The Bhagavadgita too has this teaching that the Brahman is nirguNa, free of all attributes:
असक्तं सर्वभृच्चैव निर्गुणं गुणभोक्तृ च ॥१३- १४॥
The word ‘अगुणः/अगुणम्’ too mean the same:
Shri Paramashivendra Saraswati (16-17th Century AD), the Preceptor of the great jivan-mukta Yogi Shri Sadashivendra Saraswati of Nerur, had compiled a work titled: ‘VedAnta-nAma-ratna-sahasram’ (A collection of a thousand name-gems from the Vedanta (Upaishads) on Atman/Brahman). This work is published by Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Shankara Mandir, Secunderabad, India, in 1969 under the editorial guidance of Brahmasri S.R.Krishnamurti Sastrigal. In this book, the name ‘अगुणम्’ is listed as one of the shruti-names of Brahman. On page 95, the revered author says:
अगुणम् -गुणसामान्यरहितम् – ’अवक्तव्यमनादातव्यम्’ इत्यादि: श्रुतिः।
(‘aguNam’ – that which is devoid of any guNa whatsoever. This word appears in a Vedic passage: ‘avaktavyam…..’) The name of the Upanishad is, however, not given either by the author or the editor.)
The word ‘निर्गुणः’ is also listed in the above book.
निर्गुणः – गुणरहितः
शिवपुराणे (६१ तम अध्याये) शक्रं प्रति उपमन्युः –
स एव निर्गुणस्सर्वे सगुणाश्च सुरासुराः ।
देहिनो निष्कलः शम्भुः कथं स गुणवान् भवेत् ॥
[He, Shiva, alone is nirguNaH. All the devas and asuras are saguNa-s, being endowed with body. How indeed can Shiva be a ‘guNavAn’ (endowed with any guNa-s)?
अव्यक्तं कारणं यत्तदक्षरं परमं पदम् ।
निर्गुणं शुद्धविज्ञानं सदा पश्यन्ति सूरयः ॥
साक्षी चेता केवलो निर्गुणश्च इति श्रुतिः ।
In the SrImadbhAgavatam 1.2.30 we have this verse which contains the word ‘aguNaH’ –
स एवेदं ससर्जाग्रे भगवानात्ममायया ।
सदसद्रूपया चासौ गुणमय्यागुणो विभुः ॥ (guNamayyaa (tRteeyA) + aguNo)
That Lord Vasudeva Himself who is omnipresent and though beyond the three gunas first created the universe with His inherent power of Maya which is constituted of the three guNas and which is both the cause and effect.
We have in the SrImadbhAgavatam (uddhavagItA) Chapter 23 verse 11:
आत्मा अव्ययोऽगुणः शुद्धः स्वयंज्योतिरनावृतः ।
अग्निवद्दारुवदचिद्देहः कस्येह संसृतिः ॥
[The Atman is changeless,transcends all guNas, pure, Self-effulgent, ever-manifest, and like fire while the body is non-intelligent, like wood. So which of these has relative existence (samsara)?]
The next word of the Buddhist verse is: स्वयंभातम्
Brahman/Atman is not in need of any other consciousness/light to reveal it. It is self-effulgent. The Upanishads have a number of references to show this:
अत्रायं पुरुषः स्वयं ज्योतिर्भवति Br.Up.4.3. 9 and15
न तत्र सूर्यो भाति न चन्द्रतारकं
नेमा विद्युतो भान्ति कुतोऽयमग्निः ।
तमेव भान्तमनुभाति सर्वं
तस्य भासा सर्वमिदं विभाति ॥ Mundaka 2.2.10 /Kathopanishat 2.2.15
यः शरीरेन्द्रियादिभ्यो विहीनं सर्वसाक्षिणम् ।
पारमार्थिकविज्ञानं सुखात्मानं स्वयंप्रभम् ॥ nAradaparivrAjakopanishat8,9
तत्तत्पदविरस्य श्रोत्रियस्य प्रसादिनः ।
स्वरूपभूत आनन्दः स्वयं भाति परे यथा ॥ ३०
स्वयंप्रभः सर्वगतोऽहमव्ययः muktikopanishat 2.1
स्वयमेव स्वयं भामि स्वयमेव सदात्मकः
स्वयमेवात्मनि स्वस्थः ….
स्वयमेव स्वयं ज्योतिः… Tejobindu up.3.22,23
Also the BhAgavatam (uddhavagita) verse we saw above is another reference:
आत्मा अव्ययोऽगुणः शुद्धः स्वयंज्योतिरनावृतः
The word निर्लेपम् of the Buddhist verse:
This word means that the Supreme Truth, Atman/Brahman is free of any blemishes as it does not attach itself to any attribute of the created world. It is otherwise called असङ्गः/ निःसङ्गः / निरञ्जनः. It also means ‘the one who is free of any sins.’ There are several references in the Scriptures to show this:
लिप्यते न स पापेन पद्मपत्रमिवाम्भसा ॥Bh.G.5.10॥
असङ्गोऽसितो न सज्यते,
असङ्गो ह्ययं पुरुष इति॥ बृ.उ. ४.३.१५,१६
तदा विद्वान्पुण्यपापे विधूय निरंजन: परमं साम्यमुपैति॥ – मुण्डकोपनिषद 3/1/1-3.
स पर्यगाच्छुक्रम् अकायम् अव्रणम् अस्नाविरं शुद्धम् अपापविद्धम्
‘अपहतपाप्मा विजरो विमृत्युर्विशोको विजिघत्सोऽपिपासः (Chandogya.8.7.1)
The word अजरामरम् of the Buddhist verse –
This means that Brahman/Atman is free from old age and death.
विजरो विमृत्युर्विशोको of the just stated passage
स वा एष महानज आत्मा अजरोऽमृरोऽमृतो ….Br.Up.4.4.25
In the BhAgavatam, PrahlAdacharitram portion we have these words:
”It is not one, for how can there be a second distinct from it? Aloneness cannot be attributed to it nor even not-aloneness. It is neither a void nor a non-void. When it does not admit of a second entity, in what manner can I speak about it though it is established by all the Upanishads.?”
The Yoga vAsiShTha too says:
shUnyam tat prakRtirmAyA brahma vijnAnamityapi
shivaH puruSha IshAno nityamAtmeti kathyate
The next word in the Buddhist verse is: tattvam
The parAsharapurANa says:
sAkShAt parataram tattvam….
utpattyAdivinirmuktam svatantram pUrNamadvayam…
The MahAnAraayaNopanishat says:
तत्त्वम् नारायणः परः
The next word in the verse is: अविज्ञेयम्
This means that Brahman/Atman is not knowable like an object. Says Sri Paramashivendra Saraswati:
अविज्ञातः – निश्चयगोचरतामनापन्नः रूपादिवत् सुखादिवच्च ।
The shruti pramanam is: अदृष्टो द्रष्टा…अविज्ञातो विज्ञाता [Br.Up. 3.7.25]
The last (compound) word of the Buddhist verse is:
This means that Brahman/Atman is not knowable by the instrumentality of the mind and speech. While this is a very familiar expression/concept in Vedanta, here are just two specific shruti passages to substantiate this:
यन्मनसा न मनुते, येनाहुर्मनो मतम् | तदेव ब्रह्म त्वं विद्धि नेदं यदिदमुपासते ||||Kenopanishat 1.5
यद् वाचा अनभ्युदितं येन वाग् अभ्युद्यते तद् एव ब्रह्म, न इदम् यद् इदम् Kenopanishat 1.4
The above passages conclusively establish that Brahman/Atman is beyond the reach of the mind and speech. However, it is with the light of Brahman that the mind is known and speech gets its power to reveal things.
In conclusion, we recall the following Buddhist verse, quoted at the beginning of this study, which Sri Madhvacharya has quoted to ‘prove’ that Advaita is not any different from Buddhism:
निर्विशेषं स्वयंभातं निर्लेपमजरामरम् ।
शून्यं तत्त्वमविज्ञेयं मनोवाचामगोचरम् ॥ ३
All the words in the above verse have a basis directly or by implication in the Upanishads/smRti. Thus this study proves that what Buddhism might say about itself is actually already available in the Vedic scriptures. We conclude that it is Buddhism that has to be pointed out as not any different from Vedanta, going by the verse/s quoted by Sri Madhvacharya.