“What is the difference between advaita vedanta and buddhism in their views of ultimate reality?”
F.: Hello, Rachel. Thanks for visiting the site and submitting a question. First, I speak for no other Advaitans and share only "my" understanding. And I certainly speak for no Buddhists, though I did study their teachings while spending time in a Buddhist community. (I was not that higher level of consciousness that the jnanis are. My journey was an arduous one, as I described in The Twice-Stolen Necklace Murders: In his energy-consuming search for salvation, he’d been dipped, dunked, sprayed, spayed, sprinkled, and neutered; in the quest for truth, he’d been blessed, cursed, cussed, lectured, scolded, and praised; in his pursuit of Life’s Meaning, he’d been communion’d, Om’d, grape-juiced, wined, ahsram’d, accepted, rejected, Mu’d, and yoga’d; in his chase for service-work-opportunities, he’d been pulverized, martinized, and frappéd; and in the endeavor to attain Life Eternal, he’d been baptized, Buddha’d, New Aged, powwow’d, Far Eastern Indianized, incense’d, sage’d, Tao’d, Peru’d, Tibet’d, washed in the blood, dunked in the waters, and purportedly purified. The trip need not be so arduous for those who are "ready" for the Teaching as presented in FROM THE I TO THE ABSOLUTE (A Seven-Step Journey to Reality.) That said, the fact is that no ‘ultimate truth’ or ‘ultimate reality’ can be stated. Suffice it for most simply to know the false. Persons take their body and mind and personality to be who they are, and therein lies the difference in the Advaita Teaching and all others. Rather than try to improve a person, the Advaitan sees that personas are illusions. End of effort. No personas with hidden agendas? No interruption of peace. End of chaos. End of story. Rather than trying to know and repeat Truth, the key is to find the lies by asking questions to determine which persona has an agenda: "Who wants something? Who desires something? Who fears something? Who is claiming something?" I’ve visited with Buddhists of varied "schools" over the years and found diversity in their beliefs and practices. Are we talking about Theravad/Hinayana? Are we discussing Mahayana or its variations such as Tibetan, Zen, Pure Land, or Nuichiven? A common pointer among many Advaitan teachers is that all concepts are false and all practices based in concepts are therefore worthless. Thus, the questions I’ve asked of Buddhists of various schools (and others whom I’ve visited with over the years) is, "Who wants perfection?" and "Who is claiming to have transcended personality?" If transcending personality suggests that one who was formerly assuming a persona as an identity now realizes that all roles are illusory, fine; otherwise, those making such a claim could as easily claim that they can drive through a desert and transcend the mirages that seem to be appearing. To know something is a mirage, i.e., to be in touch with reality, ends any notion of transcending that which is completely imagined to begin with. Now, the questions I ask might be relevant to some who follow this or that Buddhist teaching but not to others. I invite all to take any pointer into consideration and accept or reject the point after three days of consideration. That point offered, I also ask, "Who wants to accept that something or someone presides over this universe? Who thinks he or she will benefit as a result of believing in that concept? Who wants to believe in spirits and gods and saints and who has a desire to get something as a result? Who believes he or she is better than others or better than before as a result of adopting others' beliefs? Who wants to worship, who would want to be worshipped, and who is desiring a benefit from that practice? Who believes in holy places or holy buildings or holy texts? Who believes this is different from, and better than, that?" Believe that most land is "not holy" but that some parcels of land are "holy" and you'll have a belief that will lead to never-ending wars on the planet as persons fight for control of the "special, different" land. All conflict is rooted in duality, including the inner conflict experienced by persons. I also inquire, "Who wants more power and who wants an even higher power? Who has an intention? Who believes in the duality of the concept of 'wholeness' vs. 'unwholeness'? Who believes that spiritual tools, if used every day and forever, will make him or her a better person? Who believes in birth, death, and rebirth? Who is seeking that continuity of body-mind-personality? Who wants free will and who believes she or he has the power to effect change and assign cause to one isolated action in an infinite succession of actions? Who wants to be 'noble'? Who wants to believe in a paradise or Pure Land or Special Place for a body-mind-personality triad to exist in forever? Who thinks that suffering is positive? Who has ideas and opinions and beliefs about right vs. wrong and good vs. bad or opinions and beliefs and ideas regarding abortion or homosexuality or divorce or any issues that occupy the variable minds of persons who want control and influence? Who believes that there are gender-specific roles or tasks? Who is claiming to know what is 'moral' vs. what is 'immoral'? Who is claiming to have helped people? Who is claming the right to prescribe what people should or should not eat, what they should or should not do sexually, or whether they can or cannot consume alcohol or other forbidden beverages? Who believes that a god that could be preoccupied with what you eat—and offers rewards or assigns punishment based on your food plan—is due glorification? Who believes that bodies-minds-personalities are incomplete and need to be made complete, rather than seeing that all three are illusions—nothing more than outward appearances that are far removed from reality? Who believes that intelligence and courage are prerequisites for knowing what is actually already known but that has simply been forgotten?" And finally I have asked some persons, "Who wants to know an 'ultimate Reality' when reality is reality and being out of touch with reality is being out of touch with reality? Who has taken as truth their criteria of what would make you ‘good’ or ‘bad’? Who is accepting without questioning their labels applied to you during your childhood and fixed into your 'mind' by use of punishments and rewards? Who is unquestioningly accepting their concepts and their impact on this relative existence?" Even an "absolute reality" is just pure, uncontaminated reality, and any reality short of reality is impossible, so even that term is redundant. Either a woman is pregnant or not. Either one is in touch with reality or not. Either one has unquestioningly accepted the results of her or his programming and conditioning or one has realized as a result of questioning and eventually rejecting all of their ideas and concepts that were simply made up by controlling men and passed down by those who would control you now. "But what is left if I reject all ideas and beliefs and concepts?" I've been asked. And I answer, "Nothing...and everything." Realize why that answer implies no duality and you'll have the understanding. Please enter the silence of contemplation.