Buddhism and Vedanta
The following notes taken from Swami Vivekananda’s lectures and discourses are reproduced here from his Complete Works, 5: 279-81.
The Vedanta philosophy is the foundation of Buddhism and everything else in India, and the Advaita philosophy of the modern school has a great many conclusions similar to those of the Buddhists. Of course, the orthodox Hindus will not admit that, because to them the Buddhists are heretics. But there is a conscious attempt in Vedanta to stretch out the whole doctrine to include the heretics also.
Vedanta has no quarrel with Buddhism. The ideal of Vedanta is to harmonize everything. With the Northern Buddhists we have no quarrel at all. But the Burmese and Siamese and all the Southern Buddhists say that there is a phenomenal world, and ask what right we have to create a noumenal world behind this(1).
The answer of Vedanta is that this is an incorrect charge. Vedanta never contends that there is a noumenal and a phenomenal world. Vedanta says that there is only one reality. Seen through the senses, it appears phenomenal, but it is really the noumenal all the time. Take the case of a rope mistaken for a snake in a dimly lit room. If we see the rope, we do not see the snake. It is either the rope or the snake but never both. So the Buddhist statement of our position-that we believe there are two worlds-is entirely false. They have the right to say that the reality can only be phenomenal but no right to deny others’ right to say that the reality is noumenal.
Buddhism does not want to have anything except phenomena. In phenomena alone is desire. It is desire that is creating all this. Modern Vedantists do not hold this at all. We say that there is something that has become the will. Will is a manufactured something, a compound, not a “simple.” There cannot be any will without an external object.
We see that the very position that will created this universe is impossible. How could will have done it? Have you ever known will without an external stimulus? Desire cannot arise without stimulus or, in modern philosophic language, of nerve stimulus. Will is a sort of reaction of the brain, what the Samkhya philosophers call Buddhi. This reaction must be preceded by action, and action presupposes an external universe. When there is no external universe, naturally there will be no will; and yet, according to your theory, it is will that created the universe. Who creates the will?
Will is coexistent with the universe. Will is a phenomenon caused by the same impulse that created the universe. But philosophy must not stop there. Will is entirely personal; therefore we cannot go with Schopenhauer at all. Will is a compound–a mixture of the internal and the external. If we were born without any senses, we would have no will at all. Will requires something from outside, and the brain gets some energy from inside; therefore will is a compound, as much a compound as the wall or anything else. We do not agree with the will-theory of these German philosophers.
Will itself is phenomenal and cannot be the Absolute. Will is one of the many projections. There is something that is not will but is manifesting itself as will. That I can understand. What I do not understand is that will is manifesting itself as everything else. That doesn’t make sense because we cannot have any conception of will as separate from the universe. When that something which is freedom becomes will, it is caused by time, space, and causation. Take Kant’s analysis. Will is within time, space, and causation. Then how can it be the Absolute? One cannot will without willing in time.
If we can stop all thought, then we know that we are beyond thought. We come to this by negation. When every phenomenon has been negated, whatever remains, that is It. Whatever remains cannot be expressed and cannot be manifested, because the manifestation will be-again-will.