Buddhism In A Nutshell - Chapter 2
Is it a philosophy?
The non-aggressive, moral and philosophical system expounded by the Buddha, which demands no blind faith from its adherents, expounds no dogmatic creeds, encourages no superstitious rites and ceremonies, but advocates a golden mean that guides a disciple through pure living and pure thinking to the gain of supreme wisdom and deliverance from all evil, is called the Dhamma and is popularly known as Buddhism.
The all-merciful Buddha has passed away, but the sublime Dhamma which he unreservedly bequeathed to humanity, still exists in its pristine purity.
Although the Master has left no written records of his Teachings, his distinguished disciples preserved them by committing to memory and transmitting them orally from generation to generation.
Immediately after his demise 500 chief Arahats (Literally, the Worthy Ones. They are the enlightened disciples who have destroyed all passions.) versed in the Dhamma (The Teaching) and the Vinaya (The Discipline), held a convocation to rehearse the Doctrine as was originally taught by the Buddha. Venerable Ananda Thera, who enjoyed the special privilege of hearing all the discourses, recited the Dhamma, while the Venerable Upali recited the Vinaya. The Tipitaka was compiled and arranged in its present form by those Arahats of old.
During the reign of the pious Sinhala King Vattagamani Abhaya, about 83 BC, the Tipitaka was, for the first time in the history of Buddhism, committed to writing on palm leaves (ola) in Ceylon.
The voluminous Tipitaka, which contains the essence of the Buddha's Teaching, is estimated to be about eleven times the size of the Bible. A striking contrast between the Tipitaka and the Bible is that the former is not a gradual development like the latter.
As the word itself implies the Tipitaka consists of three baskets. They are the Basket of Discipline (Vinaya Pitaka), the Basket of Discourses (Sutta Pitaka), and the Basket of Ultimate Doctrine (Abhidhamma Pitaka).
The Vinaya Pitaka which is regarded as the sheet anchor of the oldest historic celibate order - the Sangha - mainly deals with rules and regulations which the Buddha promulgated, as occasion arose, for the future discipline of the Order of monks (Bhikkhus) and nuns (Bhikkhunis). It describes in detail the gradual development of the Sasana (Dispensation). An account of the life and ministry of the Buddha is also given. Indirectly, it reveals some important and interesting information about ancient history, Indian customs, arts, science, etc.
The Vinaya Pitaka consists of the following five books:
This Pitaka is divided into five Nikayas or collections, viz:
- Dïgha Nikãya (Collection of Long Discourses)
- Majjhima Nikãya (Collection of Middle-Length Discourses)
- Samyutta Nikãya (Collection of Kindred Sayings)
- Anguttara Nikãya (Collection of Discourses arranged in accordance with numbers)
- Khuddaka Nikãya (Smaller Collection)
The fifth is subdivided into fifteen books:
- Khuddaka Pãtha (Shorter texts)
- Dhammapada (Way of Truth)
- Udãna (Paens of Joy)
- Iti Vuttaka ("Thus said" Discourses)
- Sutta Nipãta (Collected Discourses)
- Vimana Vatthu (Stories of Celestial Mansions)
- Peta Vatthu (Stories of Petas)
- Theragãthã (Psalms of the Brethren)
- Therïgãthã (Psalms of the Sisters)
- Jãtaka (Birth Stories)
- Niddesa (Expositions)
- Patisambhidã Magga (Analytical Knowledges)
- Apadãna (Lives of Arahats)
- Buddhavamsa (The History of the Buddha)
- Cariyã Pitaka (Modes of Conduct)
In the Sutta Pitaka is found the conventional teaching (vohãra desanã) while in the Abhidhamma Pitaka is found the ulyimate teaching (paramattha-desanã).
To the wise, Abhidhamma is an indispensable guide; to the spiritually evolved, an intellectual retreat; and to research scholars, food for thought. Consciousness is defined. Thoughts are analysed and classified chiefly from an ethical standpoint. Mental states are enumerated. The composition of each type of consciousness is set forth in detail. How thoughts arise, is minutely described. Irrelevant problems that interest mankind but having no relation to one's purification, are deliberately set aside.
Matter is summarily discussed; fundamental unites of matter, properties of matter, relationship between mind and matter, are explained.
The Abhidhamma investigates mind and matter, the two composite factors of the so-called being, to help the understanding of things as they truly are, and a philosophy has been developed on those lines. Based on that philosophy, an ethical system has been evolved, to realise the ultimate goal, Nibbana.
The Abhidhamma Pitaka consists of seven books:
- Dhammasanganï (Classification of Dhammas)
- Vibhanga (The Book of Divisions)
- Kathã-Vathu (Points of Controversy)
- Puggala-Paññatti (Description of Individuals)
- Dhãtu-Khatã (Discussion with reference to elements)
- Yamaka (The Book of Pairs)
- Patthãna (The Book of Relations)
Schopenhauer in his World as Will and Idea has presented the truth of suffering and its cause in a Western garb. Spinoza, though he denies not the existence of a permanent reality, asserts that all phenomenal existence is transitory. In his opinion sorrow is conquered "by finding and object of knowledge which is not transient, not ephemeral, but is immuta le, permanent, everlasting. Berkeley proved that the so-called indivisible atom is a metaphysical fiction. Hume, after a relentless analysis of the mind, concluded that consciousness consists of fleeting mental states. Bergson advocates the doctrine of change. Professor James refers to a stream of consciousness.
The Buddha expounded these doctrines of Transiency (Anicca), Sorrow (Dukkha), and No-Soul (Anattã) some 2500 years ago while he was sojourning in the valley of the Ganges.
It should be understood that the Buddha did not preach all that he knew. On one occasion while the Buddha was passing through a forest, he took a handful of leaves and said: "O Bhikkus, what I have taught is comparable to the leaves in my mind. What I have not taught is comparable to the amount of leaves in the forest."
He taught what he deemed was absolutely essential for one's purification making no distinction between an esoteric and exoteric doctrine. He was characteristically silent on questions irrelevant to his noble mission.
Buddhism no doubt accords with science, but both should be treated as parallel teachings, since one deals mainly with material truths while the other confines itself to moral and spiritual truths. The subject matter of each is different.
The Dhamma he taught is not merely to be preserved in books, nor is it a subject to be studied from an historical or literary standpoint. On the contrary, it is to be learnt and put into practice in the course of one's daily life, for without practice one cannot appreciate the truth. The Dhamma is to be studied, and more to be practised, and above all to be realised: immediate realisation is its ultimate goal. As such, the Dhamma is compared to a raft which is meant for the sole purpose of escaping from the ocean of birth and death (samsãra).
Buddism, therefore, cannot strictly be called a mere philosophy because it is not merely the "love of, inducing the search after, wisdom." Buddism may approximate a philosophy, but it is very much more comprehensive.
Philosophy deals mainly with knowledge and is not concerned with practice, whereas Buddhism lays special emphasis on practice and realisation.
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