I have been studying Advaita Vedanta for some time now. I never really understood that Everything was conciousness and that consciousness is not a by product of my brain nor inside my mind and could not get it, I had doubts all the time. When I found out about the Buddhist principle of consciousness arising dependently I directly said yes this is how it is. Now to my question as a new Buddhist practitioner, I have been hearing Rupert spira saying " Time and space are ilusions existing only from the point of view of the observer observing changes in other words it is a kind of metaphysical idealism where the "I" is ultimately true and everything else including time,space,objects (even time and space of physics is considered mind made and not really existing in the universe) which to me also was hard to believe. I asked my self how can the world depend on me? (even though I may not witness something happening outside my house it does not mean that it didnt happen) (while writing this I saw Nagarjunas theory which seems to be idealism like Advaita??? (he says that time and space of physics does not have independent existence of our mind and that everything is mind???) Do you agree that the time and space of physics is an ilusion ? If not could you elaborate what the logic behind the Buddhist position of time and space is (both in regards to mental time and the time oh physics, I will change my view to the view of Buddhism which I found really helpful and logical with "Conciousness arising dependently".

Sadhu Sadhu Sadhu

5 Answers 5


Amazing! I have a similar background.

I too was once upon a time leaning towards Advaita. I initially thought this idea of a Cosmic Consciousness where everyone has the same "I" is interesting. This Cosmic Consciousness is the Self (Atman) in Advaita, which is identical with Brahman, the unchanging substratum of the universe, the Transcendental Ultimate Reality. The Atman is an eternal indestructible core of one's being.

However, when I read the Buddha's explanation of consciousness being dependent on the six sense media, I realized that this is the only explanation that matched my experience. There was never a time when consciousness was cognizant of anything, except through the six sense media (eye and forms, ear and sounds, nose and aroma, tongue and taste, body and tactile sensations, intellect and ideas).

The Buddha made it very clear that consciousness is dependently originated and is impermanent. Just as a flowing river appearing as one stream, but in reality is constantly changing in content, similarly, consciousness too may appear like one constant permanent thing, when it isn't.

It is very clear that Buddhism and Advaita are completely far apart.

There's no Cosmic Consciousness in Buddhism. In all phenomena, there's no such thing as a self, as in something like an eternal core of being - in Buddhism. And therefore, no Eternal God. There is no Transcendental Ultimate Reality, which is a substratum for the cosmos in Buddhism. Everything is impermanent except Nirvana. Nirvana is not any kind of reality or self. Nirvana is simply the highest bliss and peace that is cognized with complete liberation from suffering.

There's more - the Bhagavad Gita 2.17 says that the eternal soul pervades the body while Buddhism says that all phenomena is not self, and the self is simply an impermanent mental idea that arises from the inter-operation of the five aggregates (form, feelings, perception, mental formations and consciousness). How they inter-operate is described by Dependent Origination.

This will be clear to you, if you dig deep into (what I consider to be) the Buddha's original teachings in the Sutta Pitaka, of the Pali Canon, which belongs to Theravada. Mahayana preserves these same teachings in the Sanskrit Agamas.

Mahayana, at first glance, appears to look more like Advaita than Theravada. But as I dug deeper into Mahayana, I found that it overdoses on metaphors and poetic language, making it appear to look like Advaita, but in reality it's not. For e.g. Mahayana has the Eternal Buddha that sounds like Eternal Brahman. But actually, this refers to the Buddha's Dharmakaya (body of teachings) that originates from his statement that when you see his teachings, you see him, and vice versa (i.e. pay attention to his teachings and not his form or personality, to know what's special about him). In my opinion, Mahayana is a victim of its own poetic genius, resulting in its historical disappearance from the land of its birth.

Now back to your question ...

Advaita seems similar to objective idealism, while Mahayana seems similar to subjective idealism, if we were to compare them to ideas in western philosophy. Both ideas are subset of idealism.

Is Mahayana really subjective idealism?

Nagarjuna taught that all things are empty of inherent essence or "own being" (svabhava) including emptiness itself. Somebody tried to say that just like people are empty of a self of people, the chair is empty of a self of chairs.

What does that mean? And how is it related to the mind?

In our minds, we have the idea of "I am the thinker" i.e. the idea of the self. That's the primary object in existence in our reality. We also have the idea of non-self objects i.e. everything else. We objectify and classify everything around us, into non-self objects, according to their relationship to the self. For e.g. my hand, my car, not my friend, not my country.

When you look at the waters of the sea from up close in a boat, you may feel fear and insecurity, especially if you don't know how to swim and have motion sickness. To the sailor, it's a source of joy and adventure. To the fisherman, it's a source of livelihood and he sees it like a mine or oil field. To fish deep in the sea that has never left the waters, the concept of water doesn't occur to it at all, as it does not know any other reality.

Another example - a piece of cooked meat appears like delicious food to the meat eater, and it appears repulsive to the vegan. To a honey bee, it appears like dirt because it's not its food.

These examples go to show that objects do not have the inherent essence given to it by the mind.

What's a body of water to me is nothing at all (or perhaps everything) to the fish. The waters of the great sea, as a place to sail and swim, and as a body of liquid, doesn't really exist, except in my mind. It certainly doesn't exist in that way to the fish.

What's delicious food to me, is dirt to the honey bee. So, the delicious food doesn't really exist, except in my mind. The dirt doesn't really exist, except in the honey bee's mind.

This concept is called papanca in Theravada, which is objectification plus classification, also known as reification. And it's related to anatta (the teaching that all phenomena is not self), because papanca is when non-self things are reified into objects and they are classified relative to the self. The idea of the self is also papanca.

So, in my opinion, Mahayana and Theravada are very much the same in spirit although different in form, while Advaita appears similar in form to Mahayana but is completely different in spirit.


Householder, interested,

the view of the "Noble Ones" which I found really helpful and logical with "Conciousness arising dependently".

Stick just with this, no further should be of hindreance to gain the unconditioned.

once there was a monk, approaching the Buddha, raising certain questions whether certain things exist or not, telling the Buddha "when you answer this, I will continue the practice, if not, I will renouce the holy life", seeking to pressure on an answer the Buddha rejected always to give.

Hearing that the Buddha hardly rebuked the monk, asking him whether he has gone forth, whether he has given the going forth for such, calling him worthless man.

In same way, householder should be clear that he would never really become one practicing and follow this path, neither the right attitude, aspiration, nor the right attitude.

This Noble way, the Buddha, teaches suffering and the end of suffering.

And everyone seeing reasons that such is worthy to follow for ones long term happiness and that of the others, will always be welcome to make use of the heritage of the sages. This teachings are for those with less dust in the eyes, ready to be tamed.

Only this right view has to be hold dear and becomes ones "own" as soon as reaching the path, of which householder, as wanderer of those believing in kamma, shouldn't have much problems to bear:

"And how is one made pure in three ways by mental action? There is the case where a certain person is not covetous. He does not covet the belongings of others, thinking, 'O, that what belongs to others would be mine!' He bears no ill will and is not corrupt in the resolves of his heart. [He thinks,] 'May these beings be free from animosity, free from oppression, free from trouble, and may they look after themselves with ease!' He has right view and is not warped in the way he sees things: 'There is what is given, what is offered, what is sacrificed. There are fruits & results of good & bad actions. There is this world & the next world. There is mother & father. There are spontaneously reborn beings; there are brahmans & contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.' This is how one is made pure in three ways by mental action." (right resolve)

May householder go on as he feels fit.

(note that this Gift of Dhamma is not given for trade, stacks, exchange or entertainment, but for ones work trough maccharia to escape the wheel here and liberation)


Neither Advaita nor Buddhism is Idealism. Rather, both are non-dualism.

For Mahayanists nothing really exists. All, including time and space, would be conceptual imputations. What is real would transcend the existence/non-existence distinction.

You ask about the logic behind this view. It is made clear by Nagarjuna in his Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way. He demonstrates that all views other than the non-dual view are logically indefensible. All other metaphysical views are extreme or positive and fail under analysis.

This is just what most philosophers discover, and it is the reason why there is no metaphysical theory that works in the whole of 'Western' or scholastic philosophy. The result is confusion, since the solution offered by Nagarjuna, mysticism and the Perennial philosophy is off-limits.

As a logical issue this is a big topic. The philosophical problem Nagarjuna addresses is encapsulated in 'Russell's Paradox'. A fundamental theory must solve this, and the only global theory that can do his is non-dualism. Thus Nagarjuna is able to reduce all other views to absurdity.

In respect of practice and various practical matters there are differences between Middle Way Buddhism and Advaita, but in metaphysics there are none. Rupert Spira speaks for both. The genuine nature of Reality would be beyond conceptual fabrication and all extreme or positive metaphysical theories would be both logically incoherent and false.

EDIT: The seemingly different description of consciousness in Advaita and Buddhism is to do with different uses of the word, not signs of a different doctrine, and also to do with variations in teachings in Buddhism. The teachings of Advaita are the teaching of Mahayana and Spira speaks for both.

The idea that two groups of practioners could discover different truths doesn't make sense, but it makes sense that there are many approaches to teaching and the use of terms.

Do you agree that the time and space of physics is an illusion?

Yes. Nothing would really exists and nothing would ever really happen.

'Conciousness arising dependently' would describe consciousness that arises. This would be 'intentional' or subject-object consciousness. The consciousness of 'Being, Consciousness, Bliss' would be something else.

  • +1 for "The seemingly different description of consciousness in Advaita and Buddhism is to do with different uses of the word, not signs of a different doctrine, and also to do with variations in teachings in Buddhism." :) ... You got it right. Certain terms or concepts lose their meaning & connotations the moment they cross peripherry of their systems.
    – Mr. Sigma.
    Aug 19, 2019 at 15:24

I never really understood that Everything was consciousness and that consciousness is not a by-product of my brain nor inside my mind and could not get it, I had doubts all the time. When I found out about the Buddhist principle of consciousness arising dependently I directly said yes this is how it is.

You are incorrect here while connecting Advaitin consciousness with Buddhist consciousnesses. Both are different! Advaiting consciousness is not an ego-substance or some individual self-like structure. It's a common ground from which everything has arisen including that Buddhists' sense-consciousness. While reading Zen or Mahayana scriptures, I tend to believe Mahayana Buddha-nature, tathagatgarbha, etc. corresponds to the consciousness of Advait Vedanta. Advait Vedanta calls it consciousness just to maintain that's it's a sentient instead of some insentient entity like stone.

Buddha says -

There is, bhikkhus, that base (ayatana) where there is no earth, no water, no fire, no air; no base consisting of the infinity of space, no base consisting of the infinity of consciousness, no base consisting of nothingness, no base consisting of neither-perception-nor-non-perception; 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. Ud 8.1

Upanishads says -

This verily, Gārgī, is what brahmans refer to as the Imperishable. It is not coarse, not fine; not short, not long; without blood, without fat; without shadow, without darkness; without wind, without ether; without contact, without touch, without smell, without taste, without sight, without hearing, without speech, without thought-organ, without heat; without breath, without mouth; without name, without family; ageless, deathless, fearless, immortal; without dust, without sound; not opened, not closed; without first, without last; without inside, without outside; it consumes no one, no one consumes it. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.8

Let me be more clear by stating that the Brahman or Consciousness described in Advaita Vedanta is the end destination - end of the cycle of birth & death. Its attainment is not a pseudo-enlightenment state.

BG 15.6: Neither the sun nor the moon, nor fire can illumine that Supreme Abode of Mine. Having gone There, one does not return to this material world again.

Now, coming to your next question -

I asked my self how can the world depend on me?

Calling the world is unreal or dependent on your usually means that concepts are dependent on you & are conditioned. For example, as in a famous Koan, a waving of a flag isn't waving at all. You have build concepts of waving, flag, etc. Through the conditioning of those concepts you either agree or disagree with the fact of waving of a flag. Similarly, there are no directions, mountains, etc. all are naming & concepts. The aim is always to get rid of concepts or understand their limitations. Even Sherlock holmes once approximated that on the beauty that's nothing more than a concept-

Beauty is a construct based entirely on childhood impressions, influences and role models.

Also, Bodhidharma says in two entrances and four practices that,

Language and behavior, perception and conception are all functions of the moving mind. All motion is the mind's motion.

  • 1
    +1. I feel the OP may benefit from taking time to try to reconcile Buddhism and Advaita and keeping going until the differences start to seem superficial, in particular the various uses of 'consciousness' need not be a problem once they're untangled. . . .
    – user14119
    Aug 19, 2019 at 16:31
  • 1
    If you cherry pick verses, both Advaita and Buddhism can look very similar. But if you study them carefully, you'll find them to be very different. For e.g. BG 13.14 - "Everywhere are His hands and legs, His eyes and faces, and He hears everything. In this way the Supersoul exists". Now that's Cosmic Consciousness of Vedanta that is completely opposite to what the Buddha taught. And there are more like BG 2.17.
    – ruben2020
    Aug 19, 2019 at 17:00
  • @ruben2020 State of enlightenment can't be fathomed by the mind and Mahayana scriptures are subject to Advait interpretations & vice versa. So, an efficient way to validate truth is by experiencing only, starting with some initial faiths. And "Everywhere are His hands and legs, His eyes and faces, and He hears everything. In this way the Supersoul exists" - It's not talking about literal hands, faces, etc.
    – Mr. Sigma.
    Aug 19, 2019 at 17:09
  • @ruben2020 And at the best, Zen or some Mahayana scriptures don't add any romantic elements like of devotions, etc. to the unconditioned entity which is one of the differences it makes against Advait Vedanta that I agree. I agree there are differences in approach to the same thing.
    – Mr. Sigma.
    Aug 19, 2019 at 17:15
  • 1
    The Buddha taught sabbe dhamma anatta (all phenomena is not self, including Nirvana). He taught to eradicate the false view of self-view and the false view of eternalism. Vedanta taught aham brahmasmi i.e. I am the eternal Brahman. Vedanta also taught tat tvam asi i.e. you are that (eternal Brahman). Both teachings are completely opposite.
    – ruben2020
    Aug 19, 2019 at 17:26

It may be prudent to respond to this question through the medium of Quantum Physics (energies) and the Higher Doctrine(Abhidhamma). Firstly, we may need to research on whether everything in the universe is ultimately energy and not matter. The 'String Theory' of quantum physics (utube) goes even beyond this to demonstrate that fundamentally energy is information. Information in the universe is stored somewhat like the zero's and one's that go to form the fundamental building blocks of all the wonderful things we see through the internet on our computer screen. The Dhammas of Buddhism (see pdf version "Dhamma Theory' by Prof. Y. Karunadasa) also appear to be the fundamental building blocks, utilized by consciousness, to construct this wonderful world we see around us. The famous 'Double Slit Experiment' (utube) in Quantum Physics, demonstrates that indeed human consciousness converts energy to matter (energy is information). We need to note that the consciousness demonstrated in this experiment is mundane. The consciousness referred to in the doctrine of dependent origination is also mundane. The Buddha employed this doctrine to explain that mundane consciousness leads only to suffering. He gave us the Noble Eightfold Path as a means to rise above the mundane level to reach the supramundane level of consciousness i.e. Nibbana. Therefore, a state of consciousness which rises above the mundane duality of subject and object needs to exist. If not, how does one experience or cognize Nibbana? The mundane consciousness is able to exercise volition through the five senses and the mind. A Nibbanic State of Mind, can exercise volition at all levels of consciousness and is not limited to the subject and object (Dual) level of consciousness, in which we human beings operate. NIbbana is therefore Non Dual. Hope this helps.

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