This is a an excerpt of a article written by Nolini Kanta Gupta on Buddha and Shankara.
Excerpted from the Collected Works of Nolini Kanta Gupta
To escape from life is a teaching based on the view that life is an illusion. The teaching began with Buddha. Buddha said that life or existence is the fruit of desire and that there was only one way of getting out of the misery, namely, to go out of existence. Shankara continued in that line. He added, however, that existence was not merely the fruit of desire, but that it was altogether an illusion and that so long as one lives in that illusion, one cannot realise the Divine. For him the Divine – the Supreme Divine – did not exist. I believe his view was something to that effect. In any case, for the Buddha there was no God.
Both of them came in contact with something true and real. Buddha had surely an inner contact with something which, in relation to the outer life, appeared to him as non-existence and in this non-existence all the consequences of existence disappeared. There is indeed such a state. And it is said that if you remain in that state for more than twenty days, you are sure to lose your body. I believe it is so, if the condition becomes exclusive. But also it can be an experience that remains behind, exists in a conscious way and yet not exclusively. In other words, the contact with the world and the outer consciousness is maintained and supported by something which is independent of them and free. It is a state in which you can make truly a great progress in your external consciousness; for then you can detach yourself from everything and act without attachment, without preference, in an inner freedom that expresses itself in the outer life. Once you have attained the inner freedom, this conscious contact with the eternal and the infinite, you must return to action without losing that consciousness and allow it to influence the whole of the consciousness turned to action.
That is what Sri Aurobindo calls bringing down the Force from above. That way lies the only chance of changing the world; for you seek there a new Force, a new domain, a new consciousness and you put that in contact with the external world. Its presence and its action will bring changes inevitably, a total transformation, we hope, in the external world.
There is no doubt that Buddha had the first part of the experience; but he never thought of the second part, for it was contrary to his own theory. That theory was that one must escape. And it is obvious that there is only one way of escaping and that is to die. And yet, as he had said it himself very well, one may die and yet remain attached to life and continue to be in the cycle of rebirths without having the liberation. As a matter of fact, it is through the successive sojourns upon earth that one grows till one arrives at this liberation. For him the ideal is that where the world exists no longer. It is as if he accused God of having committed an error by creating a world and the only thing to be done is to repair the error by annulling it. Naturally, being thoroughly reasonable and logical, he did not admit the existence of God. But then by whom was the error committed? When and how did it come about? He never answered these questionings. He simply said that the world began with desire and with the end of desire it must end.
He was on the verge of saying that the world was purely subjective, that is to say, a collective illusion, and if the illusion ceased the world would also cease. But he did not go so far. It was Shankara who took up the line and completed the teaching.
In the more ancient wisdom, however, if one goes back to the teaching of the Vedic Rishis, for example, one finds no idea of escape from the world; they sought a realisation upon earth and they even conceived of a golden age when this realisation would be achieved. .
It is without doubt since the teaching of Buddha that the idea of escape came in; and that has gradually undermined the vitality of the country for it meant an endeavour to cut oneself away from life. The outward reality became a false illusion and one should have nothing to do with it. The natural result was that one cut oneself away from the universal energy and so vitality went on diminishing, and with diminishing vitality, all possibility of terrestrial realisation also diminished.
Some say that the Buddha was an Avatar, others say he was not.
To use the names as known in India, I think it is the Avataras of Vishnu (the aspect of the Divine that builds and preserves), who come to prove that the Divine can live upon earth; whereas, each time that Shiva has manifested (the aspect that works to transform and destroy), it was in persons who have tried to fight against illusion and demolish what existed.
I have reasons to think that the Buddha manifested something of the Shiva power. It was the same compassion and comprehension of all misery and it was the same force that destroys, evidently with the intention of transforming, but destroying more than constructing.
His work does not seem to have been very constructive indeed. It was necessary to give a practical training to man not to be egoistic. In that way it proved to be useful.
But taken in its fundamental principle it has not helped much in the transformation of earth and earthly life. It has not encouraged the descent of a higher Consciousness into earthly life; instead it has very strongly encouraged the separation of the Consciousness, which he said was the only truth, from all external expression.
And as to the existence or manifestation of the Divine upon earth, they who believed in Buddha have now made him a God. You have only to look at the Buddhist temples and all their divinities to know that human nature has always the tendency to deify what it admires.