Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Ultimate Reality in Buddhism (video)

Dr. G.P. Malalasekera, Editor-in-Chief, Encyclopedia of Buddhism (, Wheel #127), Essays in East and West Philosophy, U. of Hawaii Press (BPS 1951/2008) edited by Wisdom Quarterly
A buddha is a supremely enlightened teacher. When Wisdom Quarterly refers to the Buddha, we mean the historical Shakyamuni Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, "Sage of the Shakya Clan."

The School of Life(The School of Life) But I don't like intellectual discussions of Buddhism! Say it in a way we can understand! Say it like the Buddha would say it! Okay, here's the story in brief from The School of Life: The Buddha's "philosophy" or Dharma teaches us that craving, which is rooted in ignorance and accompanied by aversion, is at the root of our suffering and restlessness - and that calm can be achieved through serenity (jhana) and insight (vipassana), systematic contemplation founded on a base of calm-collected-concentration. If this explanation is too easy or silly, try this:
Aspects of Reality as Taught by Theravada Buddhism
Meditation beats philosophizing.
In regard to the question, “What is ultimate reality?” different schools of philosophy or systems of thought fall into two main divisions. Some of them say that ultimate reality is one: They believe in a permanent unity behind all the variety and change of the world.
  • [Theravada is the "Teaching of the first Elder Enlightened Disciples of the Buddha." It is the current expression most closely associated with the practice of early Buddhism. It should not be confounded with the pejorative Hinayana or "Lesser Vehicle" schools, like the Sarvastivada, all of which went extinct. Later Mahayana Buddhism tries to teach the same thing in a different way with invented sutras and lengthy "Perfection of Wisdom" (Prajna Paramita) literature, most pithily expressed in the beloved but rarely understood Heart Sutra, which is about anattā or "not-self" as ultimate wisdom but expressed as śūnyatā or "emptiness."]
These are the  eternalists, theists, dogmatists, monists, animists,  traditionalists, fideists, ontologists, realists, idealists, and energists. All of these schools, though distinct among themselves and even opposed to each other on many points, nevertheless have this in common:
They accept an ultimate reality that is an entity, in the metaphysical sense, whether that entity be called essence or soul, God or Force, categorical necessity or whatever other name may yet be invented. They may be said to follow a subjective method, molding reality on concepts. Hence theirs is mostly a method of conjecture.

"What's science ever done for us?"
The other schools say, some of them not very explicitly but implicit in their doctrines, that ultimate reality is plural. They follow an objective method, molding their conceptions on observations. They generally deny a unity behind or within nature’s plurality.
These are the annihilationists, atheists, materialists, rationalists, dualists, pluralists,  nominalists, relativists, positivists, phenomenalists, occasionialists, transformists, progressivists, and so on. Here again, all of these schools, though differing among themselves on many points, have this in common: They reject a metaphysical entity.
  • Now do that to your mind (WQ).
    [Wisdom Quarterly: "ultimate reality" in Buddhism may be defined as direct realization of the Three Characteristic Marks of Existence: ALL things are impermanent, incapable of yielding satisfaction/fulfillment, and impersonal. Moreover, if one understands that the ultimate problem of existence is ignorance (along with its constant companions greed and aversion), one will realize that the ultimate solution is enlightenment and strive to achieve it without hesitation. If one would rather get swamped down in details, it may be endlessly interesting to study Buddhist psychology and physics (Abhidharma) in terms of the ultimate constituents of reality, namely, cittas and kalapas or "thought moments" and "material particles" as we often discuss in variety of posts.]
Now, what is the place of Buddhism among these different “ists and isms”? The answer is that Buddhism does not belong to either group. The ultimate reality of the phenomena in the universe (the chief phenomenon around which all others center) being the “I,” “me,” the “self,” is, according to Buddhism, NEITHER plural nor one, but none!
  • [Anattā ("not-self," non-ego, impersonality) is the ultimate teaching that neither within the bodily-and-mental process of existence nor apart from these phenomena can there be found anything that -- in an ultimate sense -- can be regarded as a real self-existing ego or entity, soul or any other abiding essence.  This is Buddhism's central doctrine. Without understanding it, real knowledge of Buddhism is impossible. It is the only specifically Buddhist doctrine, with which the entire structure of Buddhism stands. All other Buddhist doctrines might, more or less, be talked about in other philosophies or religions. But the doctrine of the impersonality of all things is clearly and unreservedly taught ONLY by buddhas...]
In religion and philosophy as well as in metaphysics, the words “reality” and “real” express more than one aspect of things: the actual as opposed to the fictitious; the essential as opposed to the accidental; the absolute or unconditioned as opposed to the relative or conditioned; the objectively valid as opposed to the ideal or the imagined; that which ultimately and irreducibly is opposed to that which by means of various names signifies the mind’s stock of knowledge.

It must be admitted that in the sutras (discourses) attributed to the Buddha, we do not find any terms exactly corresponding to “real” and “reality,” but all of the above antitheses do occur and find expression in a variety of ways.
  • What is ultimate reality Buddhism? It is "Truth that is true in the highest or ultimate sense" (para-mattha) as contrasted with "conventional truth" (vohāra-sacca), which is also called "commonly accepted truth" (the consensus reality, sammuti-sacca or Sanskrit samvrti-satya). The Buddha, in explaining his Dharma or doctrine that leads to enlightenment (awakening) and nirvana (the "end of all suffering"), sometimes used conventional language and sometimes a philosophical mode of expression in accordance with undeluded insight into reality. In that ultimate sense, existence is a mere process of physical and mental phenomena within which, or beyond which, no real ego-entity nor any abiding substance is to be found. So whenever the sutras speak of a person, or of the rebirth of a being, this must not be taken as being valid in an ultimate sense, but as a mere conventional mode of speech.]
The Buddha’s teachings (Dharma) are more deeply and directly concerned with truth and the pragmatic importance of things, more with what might be called “spiritual health” than with theories. There are certain facts regarding spiritual health, however, about which it is necessary to have right views in order that action (karma) may be taken accordingly. These are the actualities (ultimate realities); other things are of very much less value.

The true is, therefore, the actual, that which is. It is expressed by the Pali word sacca (Sanskrit, satya), which means “the fact” or “the existent.”

(Z1DO4U) Peer Gynt In the Hall of the Mountain King (a troll) by Mel-O-Toons
It must always be borne in mind that Buddhism is primarily a way of life and, therefore, that it is with the human personality that it is almost wholly concerned. Various metaphors are used to describe the essential nature of the personality (the "self" in conventional rather than ultimate terms):
  • For example, “To regard the body as something of worth would be like taking frescoes to be real persons.” Or again, “As one would view a bubble, as one would view a mirage, so should the world be looked at.” (Dhammapada Verse 170.) “The world is like a dream” (Saṃyutta Nikāya, S III 141).
They are meant not so much to indicate the ontological unreality of objects and sense impressions (like the māya, or illusion, which we come across in Brahminical/Hindu Vedānta) as to express a repudiation of permanence, a sense of happy security, a superphenomenal substance or soul underlying them. They are also meant as a deprecation of any genuine, satisfying value in spiritual life to be found either in “the pride of life” or in the lust of the world.
At the time of the Buddha there were in "India" (Jambudvipa) views similar both to those of the Parmenidean (Parmenides/monist) school of Greater Greece (that the universe is a plenum of fixed, permanent existents) and to that other extreme field by Gorgias and the Sophists (that nothing is).

In all things the Buddha’s teachings or Dharma represent what he terms the Middle Way (majjhima paṭipadā), the doctrine of the golden mean, the theory of conditioned or causal becoming, the most succinct statement of which is to be found in the Saṃyutta-Nikāya:

The Buddha standing, fearless mudra (Nippon_newfie)
“'Everything is' -- this, O Kaccāyana, [is the first] extreme. 'Everything is not' -- this is the second extreme.”
  • Saṃyutta Nikāya, S II 17. See Mrs. Rhys Davids trans., in F. L. Woodward, Kindred Sayings (London: Oxford University Press 1926), Vol. IV, p. 13.
“The Tathāgata [the "Wayfarer" or "Thus Come One," "Welcome One," and "Well Gone One"] (the term the Buddha used when speaking of himself), not accepting these two extremes, preaches the doctrine of the Middle Way.”
The followers of the first extreme were known to the Buddha as eternalists (sassatavādino). Some of them stuck to the old sacrificial [Vedic] religion, which [like the Old Testament Judaism at the root of Christianity] promised blissful existence in heaven after death.

Others favored a monistic view of the universe and believed in the attainment of a supreme bliss which consisted of the dissolution of personality in an impersonal, all-embracing Absolute.

There were others who held the idea of an eternal, individual soul, which after many existences [rebirths] would return to its genuine condition of [permanent] spirit as a result of accumulated merit.
These various views are described in the "Net of All-Embracing Views" (Brahmajāla Sutra of the Long Discourses of the Buddha or Dīgha-Nikāya).
  • The first discourse of the Long Discourses (Dīgha Nikāya). See T. W. Rhys Davids,  trans., Dialogues of the Buddha (London: Oxford University Press, 1901), Vol. I.
"All things proceed from a cause, and I make that cause known and also its cessation."
It is interesting to note from these descriptions that the various schools of idealism, which later appeared in the West, had their counterparts in the India of the Buddha, for example, subjective idealism (which holds that it is the “I” alone which exists, all the rest being a modification of my mind), objective idealism (which holds that all, including the “I,” are mere manifestations of the Absolute), or the absolute idealism of Hegel (which informs us that only the relation between the subject and object is real).

All of these varieties of idealism the Buddha held to be “painful, ignoble, and leading to no good, because of their being intent upon self-mortification.”
  • Saṃyutta Nikāya, S IV 330f.  Dhammacakkapavattana  Sutra.  See Lord Chalmers, trans.  Further Dialogues of the Buddha (London: Oxford University Press 1926).
"Suffering has an origin and a cessation."
Idealism, according the Buddha, has but one reality, that of thought, and strives for but one end, the liberation of the thinking self.
Addiction to self-mortification is merely the practical side of the speculations of idealism, in which the “self” is sublimated, with the natural consequence that the “self” must be liberated from matter, the “soul” must be freed from the bonds of the body. The passions of the body must be subdued even by force. Body becomes the eternal enemy of the spirit to be overcome by prayer, fasting, and other austerities.
The followers of the second extreme, who denied any survival of the individual after death or any retribution for moral and immoral deeds (karma), the Buddha called annihilationists (ucchedavādin).
The annihilationists, too (or, as they came to be called later, the materialists) [who teach that the self is annihilated at death with the breakup of the physical body], had many varieties of belief in ancient India.

(Askathor) Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" (Suite No. 1, Op. 46), Liepzig Orch.

Some, like the Epicureans, denied any external Agency as the cause of matter and maintained that the highest good was pleasure. Others, very much in the manner of Hobbes, Comte, or John Stuart Mill, held that only the sensuous could be an object of knowledge.

But all of them saw only one origin, matter, and strove only for one end, material well-being. Increase of comfort, said the Buddha, only leads to desire for still more, and the desire for more leads, and will always lead, to conflict and conquest. He, therefore, condemned materialism as “despicable, vulgar, ordinary, base, and leading to no good (Ibid.)
In the Buddha’s view, both idealism and materialism, though theoretically opposed, converge both in their starting point and in their goal. For “self is their beginning and satisfaction their end.”
Between these two extremes, therefore, of materialistic self-indulgence and idealistic self-denial (not as a compromise but “avoiding both”), the Buddha formulated the Middle Way, “the way of knowledge and wisdom,” not in the wavering of speculation, or in the excitement of discussion, but “in tranquility of mind and penetrative insight, leading to enlightenment and deliverance [from all suffering], enlightenment with regard to the real nature of things and deliverance from suffering and its cause” (Ibid.)

In following the Middle Way, the Buddha realized that part of eternalism's doctrine is correct -- the gradual accumulation of merit in a series of existences (rebirths). But he saw as incorrect the doctrine of an eternal spiritual principle. He saw a contradiction in assuming an eternal, pure, spiritual principle, which for incomprehensible reasons became polluted with the filth of mundane existence only to revert later to original purity.

Samsara (the Wheel of Rebirth) is a long and painful round until enlightenment.
Along with annihilationism the Buddha saw that every permanent thing is actually in flux and therefore impermanent.

The Buddha’s liberating realization came from seeing the insubstantiality in all things, understanding that "the world" is a process -- a progression of discrete, radically evanescent elements (kalapas and cittas), some physical, some metaphysical.

The Buddha's discovery was not an immediately apparent one because he had also to find a theoretical basis to preserve the vital necessity of virtue, ethics, and morality (sila). He was faced with the apparent contradiction of a moral law without a person on whom the law was binding, liberation with nobody to reach the goal of nirvana.

How he discovered the solution to this apparent problem will appear in the sequel. The shortest statement of the Buddha’s teaching is contained in a formula which has come to be regarded as the Buddhist credo succinctly expressing the Four Noble Truths:

“Whatsoever things proceed from a cause, the Tathāgata [the Buddha] has declared the cause thereof; he has also explained their cessation.”

This is the doctrine of the shraman. It declares, in other words, that the Buddha has discovered the elements and their causal connection and a method to suppress their active efficiency and secure their quiescence.
The Buddha claimed that the Dharma is a practical teaching: its objective is to guide the way of escape from the ever-revolving round of rebirth-and-death (saṃsāra) and which is considered a condition of degradation and suffering (dukkha).

This path of escape from suffering was meant primarily for human beings [and devas, so another title of the Buddha was "teacher of gods and men," shasta deva manusanam, which means "instructor of devas and human beings"]. More

Light arose, knowledge arose, wisdom arose - when I practiced in the cave of ignorance!

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