Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Buddhism is not a Philosophy


Moreover, another question that of whether Buddhism is a philosophy or not also depends on the definition used. If the term ‘philosophy’ is defined as ‘love of wisdom’, ‘serious thinking’, ‘world view of things’ or ‘speculation about reality, then Buddhism is obviously not a philosophy.

But, if the scope of philosophy is wide enough to cover the deeper and more profound sense of ‘search of truth’, then Buddhism may be called, in the same way, a philosophy. The interpretation ‘search of truth’ is quite similar to the search after the Noble Truth (ariya saccā) in Buddhism. But generally, most of the philosophers in the west are usually seeking outward as well as inward to find out underlying reality behind the temporal manifestations.

They generally avail themselves of the different ways of finding out Ultimate Reality. They enjoy, mostly, the intellectual satisfaction in the quest itself and thus are not necessarily concerned with arriving at the ultimate truth. Philosophy as is commonly known, asserted by several well-known philosophers, is found different in ideas, views and opinions. That is only because of the fact that an inference asserted by a philosopher was often times rejected by another one when it was disagreeable to his own view or opinion. That, in fact, proves that the inferences were not really mature and true enough, but still lacking any real validity.

The statements of their philosophy guide one to take part not in a steady and orderly advance form speculation to knowledge, but in a series of marches and counter-marches of views and criticisms. They are hardly able to arrive at the final goal; instead they are choosing to tread in the footsteps of their predecessors. Thus we see that their quest is essentially speculative.

The western philosophers, of course, had admirably reasoned and laboriously worked out what they could, but their tremendous conflict of opinions largely cancelled out each other’s value and left the students bewildered, ignorant and confused in their attempt to see in a dim light. Moreover, the western thinkers usually claimed that nobody had discovered ultimate truth and that human intellectual limitations were so narrow that nobody was likely to discover it. However, the Buddhist canon claimed that the ultimate truth was certainly discoverable and that even many sages had actually realized it. The western philosophers, apparently in such a gloomy search, had not reached the stage of the Noble Truth which was discoverable only by the Perfectly Enlightened One, as they were naturally incomplete and lacking in systematic methods or principles of the Absolute Truth (paramattha saccā).

In the case of Indian philosophers, their quest after the Truth was also not absolutely perfect and final though they exerted themselves to a great extent within their practice. So what they had realized was not the final goal as seen from the view of Buddhist sages who had become the Noble Ones (Ariyas). Their interpretations regarding the Ultimate Reality were true only to the extent of their own realizations, going no further and not wholly true. The knowledge of truth that they had attained was only part and partial knowledge. And so the perfection of human wisdom could never ‘develop out of any mystical hermitage. In fact, they could enter into mystic trances, yet they, were not really enlightened in the higher stages of insight or supreme wisdom (adhipaññā).

In the case of enlightened ones in Buddhism, their approach was empirical like the approach of the scientists and Indian philosophers, but he difference was that the latter could reach only the culmination of the trance and no further. As for the Noble Ones in Buddhism, when they came to the end of the meditative journey, there needed to be no speculation for them as they had fully realized that they had reached the final end, (Nibbāna), by their actual experience of the Noble Truth (saccā). This decidedly shows that there are the Noble Ones in the Buddhist dispensation for some of whom there is no more rebirth as they have attained the final state of Nibbāna, i.e., totally cutting off the fetters, thereby going beyond the mind-body complex, above the space-time and cause-effect order of life-existence. Therefore it is a true fact that the way to achieve the Ultimate Reality can be found only in the Teaching of the Buddha, as the Buddha Himself taught in the Mahāparinibbana Sutta that ‘in this doctrine and discipline of Him, the Eightfold Noble Path is duly realizable’.

[An excerpt from “Buddha Desanā” and “Essential Principles for Enlightenment” by The Most Venerable Kaba-aye Sayadaw Bhaddanta Paññādīpa]

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