K.R. Norman and R.F. Gombrich have mentioned that scholars have often missed the connection of the discourses in the Nikāyas to the Upaniṣads “…it is hard to see why almost all writers about Buddhism accept the statement often made that the Buddha makes no mention of the Upaniṣadic concept of a Universal Self, an ātman or Brahman.” [A Philological Approach to Buddhism – Norman, 1997] “Some of the great modern scholars of Buddhism have said that the Buddha had no direct knowledge of the Vedic texts, but this is certainly wrong. … For many years I have tried to show in my teaching and lecturing that the Buddha presented central parts of his message, concerning kamma
and the tilakkhaṇa
, as a set of antitheses to brahminical doctrine.” [Recovering the Buddha’s Message – Gombrich, 1988
Ananda Guruge, attempted to correct the overreaching of early writers on Buddhism who claimed that the Buddha was influenced by and taught the aims of the Upaniṣads, by claiming that the Buddha and his followers did not understand the complex emanation theories of the Upaniṣads, and simply knew of the god Brahmā and ātman ‘as a psychological and merely individual factor.’ But this misses the language in the pāḷi texts which point directly to key phrases and concepts of the universal self in the Upaniṣads.
In the Alagaddūpama Sutta (MN.22), the Buddha framed a discussion with bhikkhus on a set of ‘six positions on views’ (chayimāni … diṭṭhiṭṭhānāni
) that were held by the untaught commoner (assutavā puthujjano
), and through this discussion leveled a sweeping refutation of the of the Upaniṣadic theory of Ātman, Brahman Absolute or ‘The All is Brahman … this self of mine in the heart, that is Brahman’ ‘sarvam khalv idaṃ brahma … eṣa ma ātmāntar hṛdaye etad brahma
’ (CU. III, 14:1 & 4). MN.22 was specifically punning on Yājñavalkya’s view in Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad, IV, 5.6.
With reference to this case example and others, K.R. Norman and R.F. Gombrich have soundly argued that the Buddha and his followers were well aware of the brāhmaṇa culture of the time, and that the attā
he was refuting as nonexistent (asat
) is the dogma of ātman
just as we find it in the Upaniṣads.
Read:A Note on Attā in the Alagaddūpama Sutta, K.R. NormanA Philological approach to Buddhism, K.R. NormanRecovering the Buddha’s Message, R.F. Gombrich