A Rakuten Company

More titles to consider

Shopping Cart

itemsitem

Synopsis

To what extent can we speak of Buddhism as a religion—a system which rejects a belief in an immortal soul and an eternal God? We shall do well not to seek to answer this by fitting our reply into the limits of a ready-made definition. Buddhism implies a certain attitude to the universe, a conception which gives meaning to life, but it does not look upon the ultimate reality of things as personal. It succeeds indeed, more than any Other system, in evading ultimate questions, though even in rejecting metaphysics it was unable to remain wholly unmetaphysical. The chief ontological principle of Buddhism is that all compound things are impermanent; and it went on to assert that all things are compound except space and Nirvana. The self is compound, and hence impermanent. When the individual is analysed into body and mind with its qualities and functions, what is there remaining behind? The soul, atman, said the Vedantin, that permanent entity which is in reality identical with the absolute and eternal Brahma. But the Buddhist answer was that there is nothing remaining. The elements of the self are the self, just as the parts of the chariot are the chariot. Whether this is philosophically or even psychologically sound is anOther question. This analysis was applied to all things and beings, and hence also to the gods. The gods were not denied, but their permanence was, and hence there was no paramatman or universal soul, of which the gods, according to the orthodox philosophy, were the manifestations. In this sense Buddhism is atheistic. The gods were merely beings, involved like us in incessant change, who by merit had acquired their high rank of existence, and who would lose it when their merit was exhausted. They were, as the Sankhya philosophy said, office-holders, and any one by sufficient merit could attain to that rank. Buddha himself, according to the legends of his previous births, several times became Sakka (Indra) and even Brahma. In the birth-story of the hare (Jataka, No. 316), when the hare resolves to sacrifice himself to provide food for the brahmin, the throne of Sakka, king of the gods, becomes hot, and Sakka becomes uneasy on finding that there is a being with so much merit who is likely to displace him. Buddhism, however, is no theory that the world is a concourse of fortuitous phenomena. It retained the Indian doctrines of rebirth and karma. Karma, “action,” is the law of cause and effect applied to the moral world. Every action brings its fruit, either in this life or anOther. It makes possible the moral government of the world without a moral governor. But action can only lead to temporary happiness or misery. It cannot—any more than in the Christian system—bring salvation. Salvation, the freedom from the circle of birth and death, results from knowledge, and the saving knowledge which is the essence of positive Buddhist teaching consists in the four truths—the fact of suffering, the cause of suffering, the destruction of suffering, and the Noble Eightfold Path leading thereto. This is the teaching which makes Buddhism a religion. Buddhism offers not merely a philosophy, but a theory of life for those who are suffering, for the weary and heavy-laden, which has for centuries met the religious needs of a great part of the human race. “In religion,” said Hegel, “all that awakens doubt and perplexity, all sorrow and care, all limited interests of finitude, we leave behind us on the bank and shoal of time… It is in this native land of the spirit that the waters of oblivion flow, from which it is given to Psyche to drink and forget all her sorrows.” In no religion has this been more deeply realised than in the perfect calm of the Buddhist saint, who in his earthly life has “crossed to the farther shore,” and realised the eternal great Nirvana. As there is no soul, no permanent entity which transmigrates, the doctrine of rebirth had to be modified in the Buddhist system. The elements or factors of the individual are composed of five groups (khandhas): (1) the body, (2) sensations, (3) perceptions, (4) the predispositions (sankharas) forming the mental and moral character, (5) consciousness. It is through these groups that transmigration takes place, and the cause which leads to rebirth is “thirst” or clinging to existence. Impelled by this thirst the being is reborn as an individual in a new existence, higher or lower according to the karma accumulated. Rebirth ceases when this thirst is extinguished. To bring about this extinction many bonds have to be broken, errors corrected, and delusions destroyed, on the Noble Eightfold Path leading to perfect knowledge

People who read this also enjoyed

Get a 1 year subscription
for / issue

Read This On

You can read this item using any of the following Kobo apps and devices:

  • DESKTOP
  • eREADERS
  • TABLETS
  • IOS
  • ANDROID
  • BLACKBERRY
  • WINDOWS