Understanding Buddhism through different Philosophical Theories
Buddha’s Noble Truth about the Path to Liberation
The fourth noble truth focuses on the path to liberation which was followed by Buddha in order to free themselves completely from misery. The path that is recommended by Buddha comprises of eight steps or rules and is called the eightfold noble path. It consists of the following eight good things:
Right views (sammaditthi or samyagdrsti) – Right views in terms of a knowledge about the four noble truths should lead to an end of sufferings and it therefore leads to a correct knowledge about the nature and the self.
Right resolve (sammasankappa or samyasankalpa) – This largely refers to the resolve or determination to renounce worldly pleasures and therefore reform one’s life by practicing meditation and penance in the forests away from materialistic possessions and also give up all ill-feeling for others and not engage in doing any harm to them.
Right speech (sammavaca or kamyagvak) – Here the emphasis is laid on determination and that it shouldn’t define merely a desire of getting liberated and therefore it should be observable in speech and should constantly guide it. Right speech should comprise of abstention from lying, slander, unkind words and frivolous talk.
Right conduct (sammakammanta or samyakkarmanta) – Furthermore, here determination is emphasized as being observable in good conduct and right action and shouldn’t stop merely with speech. Right conduct is observed as abstaining from stealing and improper gratification of the senses and resisting from destroying life.
Right livelihood (sammavayama or samyagvyayama) – After renouncing oneself from bad speech and bad actions, livelihood should be adopted by honest means. This means one should work in consistency with good determination.
Right effort (sammavayama or samyagvyayama) – While living a reformed life with good speech, good conduct, right actions, and right livelihood, one shouldn’t let older evil thoughts to arise in the mind again and interfere with new thoughts and so there should be a constant effort to fill the mind with good thoughts and ideas and retain them.
Right mindfulness (sammasati or samyaksmrti) – This rule states the importance of vigilance and always remember and be alert about the things that he has learnt and further contemplate them and not let any skeptic feeling interfere with it. If mindfulness isn’t practiced then again feelings of attachment to worldly objects arises and again we become victims of misery and suffering.
Right concentration (sammasamadhi or samyaksamadhi) – This particular method suggests that a person who has devotedly followed all the seven stages of concentration, can now enter systematically into the four stages of concentration and take that gradually take them to the long and faithful journey of cessation of suffering. The first stage of concentration involves concentrating the pure and unruffled mind on reasoning (vitarka) and investigation (vicara) regarding the truths and is born of detachment and pure thoughts. This is the first stage of intent meditation (dhyana or jhana)
Upon successfully concentrating on this stage, belief in the four noble truth arises and so reasoning and investigation are considered unnecessary then.
The second stage of concentration involves joy, internal tranquility born of intense, unruffled contemplation.
The third stage is made in order to initiate an attitude of indifference and not get too attached to the joy of concentration. In this one needs to feel perfect equanimity and bodily ease. The consciousness of the ease and equanimity is still present but there is indifference towards the joy of concentration.
Lastly, even this consciousness of ease and equanimity and of joy and elation is given up and therefore the fourth stage of concentration, a state of perfect equanimity, indifference and self-possession without pain and ease. Therefore, he attains nirvana and a state of cessation of suffering. These are therefore perfect wisdom and perfect righteousness.
The Philosophical Implications of Buddha’s Ethical Teachings
In this section some of the major ethical theories as proposed by Buddha are mentioned. These include: 1) the theory of dependent organization, 2) the theory of karma, 3) the theory of change and 4) the theory of the non-existence of the soul
- The Theory of Dependent Organization or Conditional Existence of Things
All mental and physical events occur under a spontaneous and universal law of causation. Therefore, whenever an event occurs (cause), it is followed by another event (effect). The existence of everything is conditional and dependent on a cause. Therefore, the earlier event becomes the primary reason of the existence or arising of the following event. This is called the theory of dependent organization and this view avoids two extreme views: one being that of eternalism or the theory that some reality exists independently of any cause and that something existing can be ceased to exist. Buddha denies the former statement and he states that in order to make something existent, there should be a pre-existing cause attributed to it and it simply cannot exist independently. He calls this as Dhamma. The failure to grasp this Dhamma is attributed to experiencing misery and pain.
2. The Theory of Karma
According to this theory, the effect of the past and its future would be the effect of its present existence. This theory is a more special form of the general law of causation as proposed by Buddha.
3. The Doctrine of Universal Change and Impermanence
The Buddha states that all things are subject to change and decay and are therefore permanently moving and changing. As there is an inherent cause of existence of each thing, all these things cease to be once the cause ceases to be. This theory that everything that has a beginning has an end, is further connected to another theory of momentariness which was developed by some of the followers of Buddha. According to this theory, it is stated that not only does everything have a definite end but also a state of constant movement and that it simply cannot exist in one particular place and that it has a non-permanent existence. Further, this theory is extended by stating that if anything exists more than its definite period then it means that it would produce a consequent effect for it. But, in reality, if tested this theory doesn’t hold true and not everything is capable of producing a similar effect, but then there is a justification for this also. It is proved by stating that everything has a potentiality to produce an effect and every time it produces an effect which is distinct from the earlier one, therefore nothing is permanent.
4. The Theory of the Non-existence of the Soul
In this theory, it is stated that the law of change is universal and no particular being cannot escape from it, be it animate or inanimate. It is believed that man consists of an abiding substance termed as the soul (atma) and that it is capable of overcoming changes of the body and that it exists even after death and before birth and migrates from one body to another.
But, the Buddha has denied the existence of the soul.
Instead, he suggests that the causal nexus of the cause giving birth to an effect and so on is the major reason behind the continuity of the life of the human and his consistent re-births.
So, in other words it can be stated that the continuity of the stream of successive states cannot be denied, only the same state of the soul in each birth is being denied here.
Therefore, rebirth is defined as the causation of the next life by the present and not any form of transmigration or migration of the same soul into another body. Therefore, there is a continuous stream of consciousness which continues from the past to the present and then to the future. Buddha iterates the importance of this theory by stating that people have false views about the self and that they have a strong illusion about the self.
Buddha states that the self is understandable into five groups, such as 1) form (rupa) consisting of different factors of the body having a form, 2) feelings (vedana) of pleasure, pain and indifference, 3) perception including understanding and naming (sanjna), 4) predispositions or tendencies generated by the impressions of past experience (samskaras) and 5) consciousness itself (vijnana).
Therefore, conclusively it can be understood that that the theory of dependent organization along with the formula of the eightfold path summarizes the true essence of early Buddhism.