BASIC BUDDHISM FOR A WORLD IN TROUBLE
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It is first of all necessary to establish what is meant by the term "God". This term is used to designate a Supreme Being endowed with the qualities of omnipotence and omniscience, who is the creator of the universe with all its contents, and the chief law-giver for humans. God is generally considered as being concerned with the welfare of his human creatures, and the ultimate salvation of those who follow his dictates.
God is therefore a person of some kind, and the question whether such an entity exists or not is fundamental to all theistic systems. In contrast to this notion of a personal God some modern theologians have interpreted the term "God" as representing some kind of abstract principle of good or "ground of being".
This view was first developed in the ancient Indian Upanishads where God is equated with an abstract principle Brahman. The ancient Indian philosophers could entertain such a view because they also had a theory of karma which really does away with the need for a personal God. Buddhists too have a theory of karma, which is different from that of the Hindus, and which even more unequivocally dispenses with the need for a Deity. The use of the term "God' to denote an abstract reality by monotheistic theologians who have no theory of karma is difficult to justify; one suspects that this is merely a device to explain away the contradictions that arise from the notion of a personal God.
In fact the actual practice of theistic religion proceeds as if God is a real person of some kind or other. Just as Buddhism rejects the notion of a Supreme God it also rejects the notion of an abstract God-principle operating in the universe. The notion of Brahman in the neuter is not discussed at all in the Buddhist texts, and even in India it may well be a post-Buddhist development resulting from the attempt to reconcile the belief in God s with the powerful critique of the Buddha.
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It is therefore the attitude of Buddhism to the notion of a supreme personal God animating the Universe that we must consider. One popular misconception of Buddhism must be dismissed at this point. This is view that the Buddha is some kind of God figure. In the Theravada tradition the Buddha is regarded as a supremely enlightened human teacher who has come to his last birth in samsra the Buddhist cycle of existence.
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Even Mahayana traditions which tend to think in terms of transcendental Buddhas do not directly make a claim for Buddha as God. Thus the Buddha cannot be considered as playing a God-like role in Buddhism. In the Khevadda Sutta he is forced to admit to an inquiring monk that he is unable to answer a question that is posed to him, and advises the monk to consult the Buddha. This clearly shows the Brahm acknowledges the superiority of the Buddha.
In the West a number of "arguments" have been adduced to prove or disprove the existence of God. Some of these were anticipated by the Buddha. One of the most popular is the "first cause" argument according to which everything must have a cause, and God is considered the first cause of the Universe.
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The Buddhist theory of causation says that every thing must have preconditions for its existence, and this law must also extend to "God" should such an entity exist. But while the "first cause" claims that God creates everything, it exempts God from the ambit of this law. However if exemptions are made with respect to God such exemptions could be made with respect to other things also hereby contradicting the principle of the first cause.
But the argument which the Buddha most frequently uses is what is now called the "argument from evil" which in the Buddhist sense could be stated as the argument from dukkha suffering or unsatisfactoriness. This states that the empirical fact of the existence of dukkha cannot be reconciled with the existence of an omnipotent and omniscient being who is also all good. The Buddha argues that the three most commonly given attributes of God, viz.
The Buddhist Attitude to Man. In considering the Buddhist view of man we are essentially looking at the psychological postulates of Buddhism which has sometimes been described as a psychological system. Given the meaning normally attached to Psychology this is too narrow a description of psychology. Buddhism deals with many other matters which are not normally included in psychology. But there is a psychological dimension to Buddhism.
This is because of the great concern which Buddhism has with the mind and with the training of the mind. In this sense Buddhism is unique amongst the world religions. The first stanza of the well-known book of Buddhist aphorisms the Dhammapada sums up very well the primacy that Buddhism gives to the mind:. Mind is the forerunner of all states, mind-based and mind-made are they. Suffering results, just as the wagon wheel follows the ox drawing it Similarly good thoughts lead to good actions. Most religious systems decompose the individual into a body and a soul.
In this division the body includes what Buddhists and modern psychologists would regard as the mind. Very often in this scheme the mind is located in the heart.
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There is no location given for the soul. It is in fact a mysterious entity created by God. While the physical body perishes at death the soul goes either to Heaven or to Hell where it is reunited with a body perhaps similar to the old one and continues its existence as one of sensuous conform or of torment depending on the destination. The Buddha dispensed with this scheme which was similar to the system advocated in the old Vedas These are:.
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This is the physical basis of existence. The five sense organs eye, ear, nose, tongue and body are especially important in generating the various signals which are processed by the mind which is also recognised as an organ in is own right. Feelings are a by-product of the contact between the organs of the physical body and the external world. They are classified in various ways - wholesome and unwholesome, gross and subtle, painful and pailful, etc. This is how the mind processes the feelings that its sense organs transmit.
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No two individuals have the same perception of the same feelings they may experience. The formations are the deliberative acts of the individuals. This is the condition of being aware of the environment in which the individual exists. While corporeality is readily understood the other four components are more subtle. Three of these, viz. But the concept of "formations" is not known to modern psychology.
At the same time there is nothing in conventional psychology that denies its existence. Here the Buddhist view transcends that of the conventional analysis of mental components. Knowledge, Wisdom and Enlightenment. The Buddha traced the root cause of suffering to ignorance; so the search for enlightenment is the supreme activity for the Buddhist The activity proceeds at both the intellectual and the intuitive levels.
Pure intellectual understanding is not sufficient, although it is often a very good starting point. When enlightenment is attained pure intellectual understanding is transcended by an intuitive grasp of the truths of the Universe. If knowledge is the outcome of "intellectual" activity, a person's fund of knowledge at any moment of time is made up of a number of beliefs that he considers valid.
The Buddha was quite clear on what he considered legitimate to believe in. This is the criterion of acceptability which the Buddha wanted to apply to all claims, including his own. In Buddhism there cannot be room for blind faith, and all propositions, religious or otherwise should be subjected to analysis and practice. The reference to "mere logic" and "plausible reasoning" in the quotation given serves as a caution concerning some extreme forms of "rationalism" which argue that "pure reason" is sufficient to establish the truth of metaphysical propositions like that of the existence of God.
Deductive methods are useful, but as they can only bring out what is already contained in the premises of the argument, they cannot be used as a vehicle for the discovery of new truths. As a result of the Buddha's rational and tolerant attitude early Buddhism never had concepts like heresy, apostasy and blasphemy and this is true of all subsequent Buddhist schools. In many theistic systems imprisonment, torture and death have been inflicted on people who have refused to bow before dogma.
In Buddhist epistemology three levels of understanding are recognised. Dii refers to views accepted more or less dogmatically. Not all such beliefs are necessarily harmful, because some people could be motivated to act wholesomely even though motivated by incorrect views. But more usually such "views" can be extremely harmful The Buddha did not consider knowledge consisting of dii to be useful in the longer term.
Dii is often contrasted with scientifically based knowledge, which results from thinking, from learning and from mental development. The acquisition of this kind of knowledge is useful, and is not discouraged; but it alone will not lead to enlightenment. This is clearly seen in the case of many eminent scientists, who have progressed far in the acquisition of particular kinds of knowledge, but have not been able to outgrow the dogmatic views inculcated in early childhood.
This results from the intuitive realisation of the Buddhist laws and truths after the successful traverse of the Middle Path. These are the five lower fetters of personality belief, sceptical doubt, clinging to rite and ritual, sensuous craving and ill-will, and the five higher fetters of craving for "fine material" existence, craving for "immaterial existence", conceit, restlessness, and ignorance.
The Doctrines of Karma and Rebirth. The Buddhist doctrine of kamma [karma] "deeds", "actions" , and the closely related doctrine of rebirth, are perhaps the best known, and often the least understood, of Buddhist doctrines. The matter is complicated by the fact that the other Indian religious traditions of Hinduism and Jainism have their own theories of Karma and Reincarnation.