The Silence of the Buddha
Troy Wilson Organ
Philosophy East and West
THE SIXTH CENTURY B.C. marks the beginning of an intellectual renaissance in [[India]. Radhakrishnan has said of this period, "There are many indications to show that it was an age keenly alive to intellectual interest, a period of immense philosophic activity and many-sided development.... It was an age full of strange anomalies and contrasts. With the intellectual fervor and moral seriousness were also found united a lack of mental balance and restraint of passion.... When the surging energies of life assert their rights, it is not unnatural that many yield to unbridled imagination."(1)
Another authority on Indian philosophy has written, "Speculation was almost rampant in the period just preceding the time of the Buddha and an excessive discussion of theoretical questions was leading to anarchy of thought."(2) One restraining influence in this period of speculation was Siddhaartha Gautama, the Buddha, who by counsel and example discouraged abstract theorizing.
When asked to express his view on a number of metaphysica1 problems, he remained silent. Thus, there come to be in Buddhism a group of problems which are known as the
avyaak.rtavastuuni--the undetermined, or unelucidated, or unprofitable questions. The most comprehensive list of forbidden speculations is found in the Brahma Jaala Sutta of the Diigba Nikaaya. Here are listed sixty-two ways in which "recluses and Brahmans... reconstruct the past, and arrange the future." The Buddha says they "are entrapped in the net of these sixty-two modes; this way and that the plunge about, but they are in it; this way and that the flounder, but they are included in it,caught in it." (3) Buddhists are warned to avoid the net altogether.
Only ten of the questiom raised in the Brabma Jaala Sutta appear in the Lesser Maalu~nkyaaputta Sermon which is Sutta 63 of the Majjhima Nikaaya, yet these are especially important, for with some alterations they constitute the avyak.rtavastuuni, The Sutta opens as follows:
Thus have I heard. On a certain occasion The Blessed One was dwelling at Savatthi in Jetavana monastery in Anathapindika's Park. Now it happened to the venerable Maalu~nkyaaputta, being in seclusion and plunged in meditation that a consideration presented itself to his mind a follows: "These theories which The Blessed One has left unelucidated, has set aside and rejected-that the world is eternal, that the world is not eternal, that the world is finite,that the world is infinitte, that the soul and the body are identical, that the soul is one thing and the body another, that the saint exists after death, that the saint does not exist after death,that the saint both exists and does not exist after death, that the saint neither exists nor does not exist after death, --these The Blessed One does not elucidate to me. And the fact that The Blessed One does not elucidate them to me does at please me not suit me.Therefore I will draw near to The Blessed One and inquire of him concerning this matter."(4)
Maalu~nkyaaputta adds that if the Buddha will solve these problems he will lead the religious life under him; but if the Buddha will not solve them, he will abandon religions training and return to the lower life of a layman. By adding the pairs, eternal-non-eternal and infinite--finite, which are found in other lists of the avyaak.rtavastuuni, we have fourteen questions to which no reply is given:(5)
1. Is the universe eternal?(6)
2. Is the universe non-eternall
3. Is the universe at one and the same time eternal and non eternal?
4. Is the universe neither eternal nor non-eternal?
5. Is the universe infinite?(7)
6. Is the universe finite?
7. Is the universe at one and the same time infinite and finite?
8. Is the universe neither infinite nor finite?
9. Are the vital principle (jiiva) and the body identical?
10. Are the vital principle and the body non-identical?
11. Does the Tathagata(8) survive death? 12. Does the Tathagata not survive death? 13. Does the Tathagata both survive death and not survive death?
14. Does the Tathaagata neither survive death nor not survive death?
Questions about the origin and end of the cosmos, about the relationship of soul and body,and about human immortality are questions which positivists from Comte to Carnap would reject as insoluble by scientific methods, as unverifiable, as super-empirical, as metaphysical, as meaningless. There are many other incidents in the life and teachings of Gautama in which he avoids metaphysical speculation. On on occasion he engages in delicate ridicule of the gods.(9) A monk goes to each of the gods and asks, "Where do the four great elements-earth, water, fire, and wind-cease, leaving no trace behind?" But the gods do not know. Finally, the monk asks the question of the Great Brahma. Brahma does not answer until he has led the monk aside.
Then he explains, "These gods the retinue of Brahma, hold me,brother, to be such that there is nothing I cannot see, nothing I have not understood, nothing I have not realized. Therefore I gave no answer in their presence." Then he, too, confesses his ignorance and suggests that the monk put his question to the Buddha. When the question finally reaches the Buddha, the Buddha informs the monk the he asks the wrong sort of question. Again in a number of passages in the Paali texts the Buddha refuses to give information as to the workings of Karma.(10)
In the Saama~n~na Pbala Sutta, King Ajatasattu asks the Buddha what are the fruits of the life of the religious recluse. The Buddha's answer is that the recluse is treated with respect and reverence; he enjoys freedom from the hindrances of household life; he develops compassion and kindness for all creatures; he is content; he attains self-possession, etc. In other words, the returns of the religious life are all terrestrial in character.
Finally, there is the record that the last words of the Buddha were not on immortality or annihilation, as might have been expected; instead, they were advice to his disciples to work out their own salvation with diligence: "Decay is inherent in all component things! Work out your salvation with diligence!"(11) Gautama's avoidance of there metaphysical subtleties has been called "the silence of the Buddha"
His silence has been as fruitful as his utterances in the production of philosophies and theologies. Sometimes it is far more interesting to conjecture what a prophet might have meant if he had spoken than to listen to what be actually said. In this paper, however, we are concerned with the more prosaic question: Why was the Buddha silent on these metaphysical issues? There are several possible answers:
1. He accepted the current views. One reason the Buddha did not answer the questions about the termination of the universe, the extent of the universe, the relation of soul and body, and the state of the saint after death may have been that he accepted the conclusions of the Brahmanism of his day. He had nothing new to offer. Many students of Buddhism have pointed out that the Buddha did not break away from the religious and philosophical thought of his culture. E. G. A. Holmes contends, The teachings of Buddha can in no wise be dissociated from the master current of ancient Indian thought. The dominant philosophy of ancient India was a spirtual idealism of a singularly pure and exalted type, which found its truest expression in those Vedic treatises known as the Upanishads.
The great teacher is always are former as well as an innovator and his work is,in put at least, an attempt to, return to a high level which had been won and then lost. Whether Buddha did or did not lead men back (by a path of his own) from the comparatively low levels of ceremonial-ism and asceticism to the sublimely high level of thought and aspiration which had been reached in the Upanishads is, perhaps, an open question. But that he had been deeply influenced by the ideas of the ancient seen can scarcely be doubted; and the serious and sympathetic study of their teaching should therefore be the first stage in the attempt to lift the veil of his silence and interpret his unformulated creed.(12)
Coomaraswamy observes, the more profound our study, the more difficult it becomes to distinguish Buddhism from Brahmanism."(13) Keith thinks that the Buddha and the early disciples believed in the existence of the gods. This conviction, according to, Keith, must be held "in the absence of a single hint to the contrary in the texts of early Buddhism and in face of the belief of pious Buddhists throughout the ages."(14)
Radhakrishnan writes,Early Buddhism is not an absolutely original doctrine.... Buddha himself admits that the dharma which he has discovered by an effort of self-culture is the ancient way, the Aryan path, the eternal dharma Buddha is not so much creating a new dharma as rediscovering an old norm. To develop his theory Buddha had only to rid the Upanisads of their inconsistent compromises with Vedic polytheism and religion, set aside the transcendental aspect as being indemonstrable to thought and unnecessary to morals, and emphasize the ethical universalism of the Upanisads. Early Buddhism, we venture to hazard a conjecture, is only a re-statement of the thought of the Upanisads from a new standpoint."(15)
Even the Paali scholar T. By. Rhys Davids admits, "Gautama was born,and brought up, and lived, and died a Hindu.. There was not much in the metaphysics and psychology of Gautama which cannot be found in one or another of the orthodox system, and a great deal of his morality could be matched from earlier or later Hindu books"(16)
While it is obvious that the Buddha cannot be understood save in his Hindu background, one cannot but feel that some critics have deprived the Buddha of the uniqueness commonly associated with his doctrine.
Takakusu goes to the opposite extreme in his emphasis on the originality of the Buddha. He makes the Buddha stand alone-much too alone "It is difficult to determine how such a man as the Buddha, who is so different from the other philosophers and religious men of India, could have appeared there, for he denied entirely the traditional gods, religious beliefs, institutions and customs."(17) While Takakusu's generalization may seem to be too broad, since the Buddha took for granted such basic doctrines as rebirth, karma, and nirvana, consider the fact that, whereas in the Upani.sada ultimate reality (Brabman) is characterized by being (sat), thought (cit) and joy (ananda), in original Buddhism these attributes are displaced by impermanence(anitya), ignorance(avidyaa) , and suffering(du.hkba).
2. He rejected the current views. Perhaps the Buddha's silence was a formal denial of the views of Brahmanism. On at least one occasion he was silent because he rejected the current views. According to the Samyuta Nikaya a wandering monk, Vacchagotta, once asked the Buddha if there was an ego (aatman, aattaa). When Gautama made no reply, the monk asked, (How then... is there not the ego?" But to this also Gautama gave no response. When Vacchagotta had left the company, AAnanda asked Gautama why he had not answered the questions put to him by the monk. Gautama replied, "If I... had answered:'the ego is,' then that, Ananda, would have confirmed the doctrine of the Samanas and Brahmanas who believe in permanence.
If I... had answered: 'the ego is not; then that, Ananda, would have confirmed the doctrine of the Sramanas and Brahmanas, who believe in annihilation."(18) The obvious interpretation of this conversation is that the Buddha did not agree with the Sramanas and the Brahmanas; he believed that any answer to Vacchagotta's question would give an impression contrary to his convictions Oldenberg finds more than this in the incident. He writes, "We see: the person who has framed this dialogue, has in his thought very nearly approached the consequence, which leads to the negation of the ego. It may almost be said that, though probably he did not wish to express this consequence with overt consciousness, yet he has in fact expressed it....
Through the shirking of the question as to the existence or non-existence of the ego, is heard the answer, to which the premises of the Buddhist teaching tended: The ego is not. Or, what is equivalent: The Nirvana is annihilation."(19) Oldenberg may be charged with reading into the document an idea which became a fundamental one in the later development of Buddhism.
Keith in his discussion of this passage warns that even if we feel the idea is hinted at, the author is teaching the doctrine of non-ego, "it is perfectly obvious that we have no right to go beyond the plain assertion of the text as to the doctrine of the Buddha."(20) Yet Oldenberg's position may be supported by appeal to other Paali texts in which the assertion of the non-existence of the ego indisputable, e.g. in the Visuddbi Magga we find the following: "the words 'living entity' and 'ego' are but a mode of expression for the presence of the five attachment groups,(21) but when we come to examine the elements of being one by one, we discover that in the absolute sense then is living entity there to form a basis for such figments as I 'am,' or 'I'; in other words, that in the absolute sense there is only name and form."(22)
Again,in the Samyuta Nikaya the priest Yamaka, who held the view that "on the dissolution of the body the priest who has lost a11 depravity is annihilated, persishes, and does not exist after death, " has his heresy corrected by the venerable Sariputta, who reveals to him that according to the teachings of the Buddha theren is no ego to be annihilated.(23)
La Vall俥 Poussin says that the record of Gautama's refusal to discuss metaphysical topics is a technique by which he denied the existence of the ego, God, and the Tathagata is the view which must be taken by modern Buddhists but it need not be taken by scientific-minded students of Buddhist religion and philosophy.(24) And Geden it of the opinion that, although the Buddha consistently refused to teach about the supernatural, the "inference...that he intended to imply personal disbelief in the supernatural and in the existence of God, and to urge or enjoin this upon his disciples, is certainly mistaken."(25)
My conclusion is that neither of these first two reasons for the Buddha's silence is adequate, although this opinion may he explained by the inevitable difficultics a modern Westerner has in trying to understand the dialectics of ancient Eastern minds. It it patent, a least to the disinterested student, that the teachings of the Buddha were in part a continuation of and in part a revolt against Brahmanism.
3. He bad no views of his own. A third possible solution to the problem as to why Gaurama gave no answers to the avyraak.rtavastuuni is that he had no answers to give. He could not accept the Upanisadic solutions; he could not offer alternatives. He was agnostic. Agnosticism is a word of many meanings. For our purposes only two general meanings need to be distinguished. One may be agnostic in the tense that one believes that the mind of man is congenitally unable to arrive at a cognitive grarp of the real world; or one may be agnostic in the sense that one believes that the real world is of such a nature that it forever lies beyond the cognitive grasp of the human mind.
Perhaps these should be described as two emphases in agnosticism rather than a two types of agnosticism. Some agnostics emphasize the inadequacy of the mind and its operations, e.g. Hume and Kant; others emphasize the unknowable character of the world, e.g., Herbert Spencer. In Buddhism both emphases are found. The limited capacity of the human mind is implied in the Buddha's reply when he was asked to reconcile anatman and karma "Shall one who is under the dominion of desire think to go beyond the mind of the master?"(26) The unknowabihty of ultimate reality is stressed in Madhyamika and Zen.(27) But such pages cannot be interpreted as suggesting that the Buddha mind was agnostic in any sense.
We should note that the doctrine that Gautama had no views of his own on these metaphysical questions, that he was ignorant, is possible only in Hinayana Buddhism, although it is never to stated In the Pali texts he is portrayad generally as a teacher, considerate, kindly, fatherly. Even though he was said to have changed his heritage by reason of his enlightenment, he still remained subject to the physical limitations of all flesh: he became weary, he hungered and thirsted, he died as the result of food poisoning. In the Sanskrit texts, on the other hand, the Buddha is a celestial, transcendental figure. He is worshipped by animals, men, demons, bodbisattvas and other buddhas.
He speaks not as a man who has found salvation and who willingly shares what he has discovered, but as a supernatural being who condescends to reveal some of his truth to man The earthly Gautama is a Docetic messianic incarnation of the Eternal Buddha. The Vetulyakas believe that the Buddha dwelt in the Tu.sita heaven while a magic form acted out a life on earth. Some Mahayanists describe the earthly life of the Buddha as a "skillful device" (upaya-kausalya) to lead creatures in the Buddha way.
The Suvarna Prabha Sutra teaches that the Buddha did not die; he gave the appearance of death for the sake of sentient beings.(28) Suzuki says that "the Buddha in the Mahaayaana scriptures is not an ordinary human being walking in a sensuous world; he is altogether dissimilar to that son of Suddhodana who resigned the royal life, wandered in the wilderness, and after six years' profound meditation and penance discovered the Fourfold Noble Truth and the Twelve Chains of Dependence and we cannot but think that the Mahayana Buddha is the fictitious creation of in intensely poetic mind."(29)
Much of the confusion as to the nature of the Buddha would be avoided if it were always clear whether references were being made to the Hinayana Buddha or to the Mahayana Buddha. Keith is one of the few students of Buddhism who explains the silence of the Buddha on the grounds that the Buddha did not have answer to certain fair and reasonable questions put to him. Keith writes,'To deny that the teaching of the Buddha himself stopped at this attitude of agnosticism appears contrary to every sound principle of criticism.
It is true that it has been suggested that it is impossible to conceive that the master would be contented with offering nothing more positive in the way of a hope for the future, but this is obviously to beg the question [Keith has been discussing the nature of nirvana.] By leaving the matter unexplained the Buddha allowed men to frame their own conceptions of the future of the enlightened man after death.... It has, however, been urged that we cannot suppose that so, able a thinker as the Buddha was without personal convictions on such a vital issue, even though he may have deemed on good grounds that it was neither advantageous nor necessary to explain his opinions to his disciples. Here again we are confronted with bare possibilities; it is quite legitimate to hold that the Buddha was a genuine agnostic, that he had studied the various systems of ideas prevalent in his day without deriving any greater satisfaction from them than any of us to-day do from the study of modern systems, and that he had no reasoned or other conviction on the matter.
From the general poverty of philosophical constructive power exhibited by such parts of the system as appear essentially Buddha's, one is inclined to prefer this explanation."(30) On the other hand, Poussin says that the agnostic position has nothing to support it other than a few texts and "the sympathy of several European scholars."(31) And Radhakrishnan advises, "To believe that Buddha himself did not know the truths and covered up his confusion and non-knowledge by silence, is hardly consistent with his claim to have attained enlightenment or bodhi."(32) None of the texts which may be interpreted as implying agnosticism present the Buddha as saying, "I do not know."
Rather, they affirm that the information requested is not necessary for salvation;(33) or that men hold a variety of opinions on the issue in question;(34) or that men have only a limited view of the world. For example, in the Udana, Gautama tells the story of a king who, wishing to stop a long discussion in his court, called in all the blind men of the city and asked them to describe an elephant. The blind men were soon quarreling among themselves because they could not agree as to the physical characteristics of an elephant. The king observed:
In such points Brahmans and recluses stick. Wrangling on them, they violently discuss- Poor folk! they see but one side of the shield. (35)
Thus, one ought to maintain an attitude of intellectual indecision until evidence sufficient for a well-founded opinion has been acquired. One ought a see both sides of the shield--and all parts of the elephant. We must not fail to note, however, that the Buddha is not speaking directly here about his own knowledge or lack of knowledge. Buddhists insist that the Buddha was the one who saw all sides. The conclusion that the Buddha was all-knowing is a much more defensible conclusion to be drawn from the text of the Buddhist than the conclusion that the Buddha was agnostic.
He is the Enlightened One, the one possessing perfect enlightenment (bodhi), Not only is he said to be omniscient (sarvaj~na) in the sense that he possessed all the knowledge one needs for salvation, but he is also said to be universally omniscient (sarvakarsjnasva), that is, he knew everything past, present, and future. Poussin says that the only work he knows which denies that the Buddha was universally omniscient is that of the Brahmin Kumarila, in which the author admits that the Buddha did not know the number of the insects!(36) Thomas holds that Gautama may be said to, be an agnostic "in excluding from investigation certain definite problems which were useless to the practica1 aim of the seeker after freedom from pain."(37)
But merely refraining from investigating problems on the ground of their failure to contribute to a practical end does not make one an agnostic. 4. He would not tell his own views. Gautama's silence may be accounted. for by the hypothesis that, while he had solutions for all speculative problems, he did not reveal them because he believed men would not understand them. It would be better do let men work out their own answers than to give them doctrines which they would corrupt. Like St. Paul he gave milk to babes and reserved the solid nourishment for the spiritually mature. In other words, the Buddha had an esoteric doctrine besides the exoteric doctrine of the Fourfold Noble Truth and the Twelvefold Wheel of Causation Several passages from the Paali scriptures lend themselves to this interpretation. One is this story from the Samyutta Nikaya: "At one time the Lord dwelt at Kosambi in the sisu-grove.
Then the Lord took a few sisu leaves in his hand and addressed the monks: 'What do you think, monks, which are the more, the few sisu leaves I have taken in my hand, or those that are in the sisu-grove?' 'Small in number, Lard, and few are the leaves that the Lord has taken in his hand: those are far more that are in the sisu-grove' 'Even so, monks that is much more which I have realized and have not declared to you; and but little have I declared.'" (38) In the Mahayana scriptures may be found passages such as the following which support the theory of an esoteric doctrine: "My original vows are fulfilled, the Dharma (or Truth) I have attained is too deep for the understanding.
A Buddha alone is able to understand what is in the mind of another Buddha."(39) Radhakrishnan is one of the modern interpreters who accepts the esoteric doctrine theory. He concludes that the "hypothesis remains that Buddha knew all about the ultimate problems, but did not announce them to the multitudes who came to him for fear that he might disturb their minds. This view seems to us to be the most satisfactory."(40)
The theory of an esoteric doctrine easily explains the conversation between Gautama and Vacchagotta. Gautama, according to this theory, had answers to Vacchagotta's questions about the existence of the ego but, knowing that th impetuous and bargaining monk was not ready to grasp his full doctrine, he gave no answer to the questions. But the theory of an esoteric doctrine can be refuted by quoting the Buddha himself: "I have preached the truth without making any distinction between exoteric and esoteric doctrines, for in respect of the truths, Ananda the Tathaagata has no such thing as the closed fist of a teacher who keeps something back."(41) In Tbr Questions of King Milinda, one of the twenty-five virtues of a good teacher is: "He should be zealous, he should teach nothing partially, keep nothing secret and hold nothing back."(42) In the same writings the Buddha is quoted has having said, '
The Dhamma and the Vinaya proclainmed by the Tathagata shine forth when the me displayed, and not when they are concealed."(43) Davids in footnotes to the above two passages writes: "So that, in the author's opinion, there is no 'Esoteric Doctrine' in true Buddhism";(44) and 'The fact is that there never has been any such thing a esoteric teaching in Buddhism, and that the modern so-called esoteric Buddhism is neither esoteric nor Buddhism."(45) In a literature as large as the Buddhist scriptures it is not surprising that conflicting statements can be found on many issues.(46)
La Vall俥 Poussin is the author of the following discouraging observation: "Cependant, prenons-y garde, si on peut parfois affirmer quelque chose du Bouddhisme, il est rare qu'on no puisse af- (46) According to Dwight Goddard there are over one thousand titles in the Buddhist Scriptures. He adds, "In the Sung Dynasty about 972 A.D. a Chinese version of these scriptures was pulished consisting of 1521 works in more than 5000 volumes, covering 130000 pages." Dwight Goddard, A Buddhist firmer et demontrer le contraire."(47) ("Yet let us take care, if one is sometimes able to affirm anything at all of Buddhism, it is seldom that one is not able to affrim and to prove the contrary.")
Here is a fertile field for a second Abelard to write another Sic et Non, The esoteric doctrine has not proved to be a fully satisfactory explanation of early Buddhism's avoidance of metaphysics. 5. He could not tell his own views. A fifth reason for the unwillingness of Gautama to answer metaphysical questions is found in the inadequacies of language. Some questions put to him carried implications which he could not accept. To answer them would have confirmed the implications. They were weighted questions like the well-known logic-textbook illustrations: "Have you stopped beating your mother-in-law?"; "Has your home town sold in horse yet?" In the Vacchagotta incident mentioned above, Gautama told Ananda that whether he had answered Vacchagotta's questions in the affirmative or in the negative he would have confirmed the doctrine of a substantial. Therefore, silence was the proper answer to the questions.
There are other instances in which Gautama corrected a question, so he could answer it. In the parable which forms a put of the Kevadha Sutta a man asks the gods, "Where do the elements pass away?" But Gautama changed the question to "Where do the elements find no footing?" Then he answered it. He changed the question, so that it become an epistemological rather than a metaphysical question.
And in the framework of an idealistic epistemology the answer is obvious: the existence of the elements depends upon intellection; intellection has ceased in "the intellect of arahat-ship"; therefore, in the mind of the arabat the elements find no footing Again, in the Mahavagga, when Siha, a disciple of the Nigantha sect, asks the Buddha if he teaches the doctrine of annihilation after death, the Buddha's Bible (rev. ed.; New York: E.P. Dutton and Company, Inc., 1952), p.v.
When one considers the difficulty Christianity has had with the problem of establishing consistency among the sisty-six books of its Bible, the problem of consistency in the Buddhist scriptures seems ridiculously impossible. There are other factors which have made for diversity in the Buddhist sciptures, viz., there have been no councils to determine the canonicity of the books (although there was at least one council to determine the orthdox doctrine of Buddhism) , and--most confusing of all--the Buddists have an open canon. New works are constantly being added. Furthermore, the figure of the Buddha in the later scriptures, if not in the earlier--and the earlist were were wirtten centuries after the life of Gautama--is a vehicle for other men's words and ideas.
(48) In some schools of Mahayana Buddhism silence is regarded as the only fitting manner in which to describe ultimate reality (Bhutatatbata). D.T. Suzuki has written, "Bodhi-Dharma... was fully convinced of the insufficiency of the human tongue to express the highest truth which is revealed only intuitively to the religious consciousness." And again Suzuki writes, "Another interesting utterance by a Chinese Buddhist, who, earnestly pondering over the absoluteness of Suchness for several years, understood it one day all of a sudden, is:
"The very instant you say it is something (or a nothing) , you miss the mark.'"(Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism, p.105, footnote 1.) answer involved a rephrasing of the question, for he answered "I proclaim, Siiha, the annihilation of lust."(49) At another time we are told explicitly that the Buddha was unable a answer certain questions because they had a frame of reference which made an answer impossible for him. I refer to the occasion in which King Pasenda asked the nun Khema why the Buddha had not revealed whether the Enlightened One exists after death The nun replied that the question assumes that the existence of the Buddha can be measured in arms of the physical, but this is not the Me: "these predicates of the corporeal form are abolished in the Perfect One, their root is severed, they we hewn away like a palm-tree, and laid aside, so that they cannot germinate in the future.
Released, O great king, is the Perfect One from this, that his being should be gauged by the measure of the corporeal world: he is deep, immeasurable,.unfarhomable as the great ocean 'The Perfect One exists after death this is not apposite;'the Perfect One does not exist after death,' this also is not apposite;'the Perfect One at once exists and does not exist after death,' this also is not apposite; 'the Perfect One neither does nor does not exist after death' this also is not apposite."(50) Thus, in typically labored fashion we are informed that existence is not a predicate which can be applied to the being who has entered into the state of pariuirvana. Existence becomes a meaningless word when used in this context.
Gautama, like all religious reformers, faced the problem of pouring the new wine of his teachings into old bottles the verbal patterns which were familiar to those to whom he preached. Mahayanists believe that some of his doctrines would not fit the language patterns of his day. According to the Zen school his doctrine will not fit the language patterns of any day. The Mahayana texts warn over and over again against the dangers that lurk in the use of words. They are fingers which point to the moon One must beware lest one concentrate on the word and miss the reality to, which the word points.
"But neither words nor sentences can exactly express meanings, for words are only sweet sounds that are arbitrarily chosen a represent things, they are not the things themselves, which in turn are only manifestations of mind."(51) Zen masters, beginning with Bodhidharma are fully convinced of the insufficiency of human language to express the fundamental nature of reality. Even to say "I do not know" is inadequate, sinc confession of not knowing implies a measure of knowledge. Silence is the best expression of reality. "What I think may be stated thus: That which it in all beings wordless speechless, shows no signs, is not possible of cognizance, and is above all questioning and answering."(52) Man should live in reality, not discourse about it. But this silence is not the silence of the misologist; it is the silence of a "higher affirmation."
6. He would not be distracted from his main purpose. We noted at the opening of this paper Sutta 63 of the Majhima Nikaya in which is found an important listing of the undetermined questions. After Malunkyaputta had put his questions to the Buddha with the threat that unless they were answered he would desert the order, the Buddha gives one of his most elaborate refusals to answer speculative questions. He reminds Malunkyaputta that he had never promised to give such teachings to his followers, nor had Maalunkyaputta set this as a condition of his becoming a disciple. Further more, adds the Buddha to set up such a condition for joining or remaining in the order would be acting a foolishly as a wounded man who refused to have a poisoned arrow removed from his body until he learned the caste of man who shot the arrow.
The religious life..., " continues the Buddha, "does not depend on the dogma that the world is eternal; nor does the religious life... depend on the dogma that the world is not eternal. Whether the dogma obtain... that the world is eternal or that the world is not eternal there still remain birth, old age, death, sorrow, lamentation, misery, grid, and despair, for the extinction of which in the present life I am prescribing." The Buddha then reiterates the other issues on which Malu~nkyaaputta is seeking information, viz., the finitude or infinitude of the world, the identity of soul and body, and the existential status of the saint after death.
The consideration of these problems, he contends, is not profitable, and does not touch the fundamentals of religion. "And what, Malunkyaputa, have I elucidated? Misery... the origin of misery...the cessation of misery... and the path leading to the cessation of misery have I elucidated. And why... have I elucidated this, Because... this does profit, has to, do with the fundamentals of religion, and tends to aversion, absence of passion, cessation, quiescence. knowledge, supreme wisdom, and Nirvana."(53) The Buddha's reply is a pragmatic reply. He is a religious teacher, not a philosopher. He has come to show men how to overcome the sufferings inevitably involved in living. Anything which does not contribute to that end is extraneous. Similar responses me found in other suttas.
For example, in the Pasadika Sutta the Buddha tells Cunda that when men ask why the Buddha has not revealed whether a Tathagata exists after death, they are to be told: "Because, brother,it is not conducive to good, not to true doctrine, nor to the fundamentals of religion, nor a unworldliness, nor to passionlessness, nor to tranquillity, nor to peace, not to insight, nor to enlightenment, nor to Nibbana Therefore, it is not revealed by the Exalted One."(54) And in the Samyutta Nikaya the Buddha, admitting that there is much that he knows which he has not revealed, explains, "And why, monks have I not declared it? Became it is not profitable, does not belong to the beginning of the religious life, and does not and to revulsion, absence of passion, cessation, calm, higher knowledge, enlightenment, Nirvana. Therefore have I not declared it."(55)
A slightly different answer is given in the Kevaddha Sutta. Kevadha, a young householder, asks the Buddha to perform, or to have one of his monks perform a miracle in the town of Nalanda In his reply the Buddha says nothing about his disbelief in miracles. Instead, he says that he abhors the practice of miracles: "It is because I perceive danger in the practice of mystic wonders, that I loath, and abhor, and am ashamed there of."(56) Then he adds that if Kevaddha really wants to, see a miracle he ought to, study the selftraining of a monk.
If one must choose only one of the six hypotheses a the reason Gautama the Buddha avoided speculative questions, the pragmatic hypothesis seems to me to be the best explanation. The picture we get of the Buddha is that of a remarkably single-minded man. Speculation was not only useless but harmful, for it would sidetrack him from his main goal. He had no disinterested love for truth. He admitted that he had more truths which he might disclose, but he refrained and limited himself to the revelation of only those truths which he considered to be religiously significant. Truth was a value for him only when it was a means a man's release from suffering. For Gautama, all knowledge was ideology, that is, all knowledge was held and expressed for certain reasons. His dharma was revealed only because it contributed to man's salvation.
What do the avyaak.rtavastuuna reveal about Gautama himself? First, they reveal the greatness of Gautama the religionist. He saw clearly that religion is first and foremost a way of life. Religion need not have a fully developed philosophy. Many of its foundation stones may remain unexamined. The Buddha did not argue for the truth of his Fourfold Noble Truth. Men were expected to see its truth intuitively and to test to in the logic of life. The avyakrtavastuni also reveal a weakness of Gautama the philosopher.
Did Gautama think that a way of life could be established without a metaphysical substructure? Or did he believe that the substructure was already established and was in such sound condition that it need not be examined? Even though he refrained from certain metaphysical speculation and asked that his followers likewise reffrain, it is manifest that his final evaluation of life, "To live is to suffer" or "All is suffering" (sarvam du.hkham) rests upon the following metaphysical conceptions: All thing are the effects of causes and the causes of effects (pratityasamutpada) ; all things are transitory (anitya); all things are devoid of a substantial self (anaatma); all animate beings pass through many existences (sa^msaara); all existences of an animate being are conditioned by its past existences (karma); all existences can terminate (nirvana).
And, finally, did Gautama believe that he could dissuade his followers from engaging in speculation on the deepest mysteries of Life? If he did, I submit that he misjudged human nature. The unanswerable problems remain problems still. Any person, early Buddhist or contemporary logical positivist, who believes that man can refrain from raising questions about the ultimate nature of the universe and man's place in it has made a superficial observation of human behavior. No restraints, no warnings are strong enough to stop man from wondering. Buddhism might have remained a religion "pure and undefiled" if the Fourfold Noble Truth could have been kept free from metaphysics; but a metaphysical view was implicit in the Fourfold Noble Truth and so, from the teachings of this man who refused to, engage in metaphysical thinking and who warned others of the dangers which lurk in theorizing have emerged some of the most speculative philosophical systems the world has yet seen. The history of Buddhism is evidence of the inevitability and necesssity of metaphysics, in spite of the insistent silence of the Buddha.
(1) S.Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, Vol. I (London: George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 1927), p.272.
(2) M. Hiriyanna, Outlines of Indian Philosophy (London: George Allen and Unwin, Ltd, 1932), p.136.
(3) T.W. Rhys Davids, trans, Dialogues of the Buddha. Sacred Books of the Buddhists, Vol.II (London: Oxford University Press, 1899), p.54.
(4) Henry Clarke Warren, trans., Buddhism in Translations. Harvard Oriental Series, Vol. III (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1896), p.117.
(5) Other lists of the avyaak.rtavastuuni may be found in the following works: Majjbima Nikaaya, Sutta 72; Mebaali Sutta; Paasaadika Sutta; Po.t.tapaada Sutta; Dharmasa^mgraha.
(6) I.e., without begining.
(7) Sankrit authorities define "infinite" as having no end in time; whereas in Paali it connotes having no end in space, e.g., in the Brahma Jaala Sutta "finite", according to the translation of T.W. Rhys Davids, means "that a path could be traced round it."
(8) Etymologically this term means "he who has gone (or come) thus."
(9) Kevaddha Sutta. T.W. Rhya Davids, trans., Sacred Books of the Buddhist, Vol. II, pp.280-284.
(10) Anguttara Nikaaya ii.80; Diigha Nikaaya iii. 138; Sa^myutta Nikaaya iii. 103.
(11) Mahaa Parinibaana Sutta vi. 10. T.W. Rhys Davids, trans., Buddhist Suttas. The Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XI (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1881), p.114.
(12) E.G.A. Holmes, The Creed of Buddha (New York: John Lane Company, 1908), p. x.
(13) Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Hinduism and Buddhism (New York: The Philosophical Library, 1943), p. 45.
(14) A. Berriedale Keith, Buddhist Philosophy in India and Ceylon (London: Oxford University Press, 1923), p.94. But doesn't the Kevaddha Sutta contain "a single hint to the contrary"?
(15) Op.cit, Vol. I, pp. 360,361.
(16) T.W. Rhya Davids, Buddhism (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1894), pp. 83,84.
(17) Junjiro Takakusu, The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy, W.T. Chan and Charles A. Moore, eds. (Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1947), p.20.
(18) Sa^myutta Nikaaya. Hermann Oldenberg, Buddha: His Life, His Doctrine, His Order, Translated from the German by William Hoey (London: Williams and Norgate, Ltd., 1882), pp.272,273.
(19) Ibid., p.273.
(20) Op. cit., p.62.
(21) According to Buddhism the individual being consists of a combination of five skandhas (groups), viz., ruupa (body, form), vedanaa (sensation, feeling) , sa^mj~naa (conception, thought), sa^mskaara (conformation, action), and vij~naana (consciousness).
(22) Warren, op.cit., pp.133,134. (23) Ibid., pp.138-145. In time the doctrine of the non-ego became the orthodox view in Buddhism. Suzuki says, "What distinguishes Buddhism most characteristically and emphatically from all other religions is the doctrine of non-atman or non-ego." (Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, Outlines of Mahaayaana Buddhism. London: Luzac and Company, 1907, p.32.) Yet some Buddhists refuse to deny the reality of a self. They use the term "pudgala" (an individual) which seems to serve for all parctical purpose as a self. L. de la Vall俥 Poussin surmises that the word "pudgala" is used rather than the word "aatman" to avoid the suspicion of heresy. See the article by Poussin, "Agnosticism (Buddhist) " in James Hasting, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (New York: Charles Scriner's Sons, 1928), Vol. I, pp.220-225, See also Keith, op. cit., p.81.
(24) Op. cit., I, p. 225.
(25) Alfred Shenington Geden in his article, "God (Buddhist)" in James Hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. VI, p.270.
(26) Sa^myutta Nikaaya iii. 103, Keith, op.cit., p.78.
(27) See my article, "Reason and Experience in Mahaayaana Buddhism, " The Journal of Bible and Religion, XX, No.2 (April, 1952),77-83.
(28) See Keith, op. cit., pp.221, 271, 272. Also Suzuki, op. cit., pp.242-256.
(29) Ibid., p.245.
(30) Op. cit., pp.62,63.
(31) Op. cit., p.224.
(32) S. Radhakrishnan, "The Teaching of the Buddha by Speech and Silence, "The Hibbert Journal, XXXII, No. 3 (April,1934), 353.
(33) See section 6 below.
(34) Sa^myutta Nikaaya v.437; Diigha Nikaaya i.179.
(35) Quoted from the Udaana by T.W. Rhys Davids, trans., Sacred Books of the the Buddhists, Vol.II, p.188.
(36)Op. cit., p.223. How this doctrine of full Omniscience can be reconciled with the Buddha's obviously false prediction that his teachings would last but five hundred years I cannot imagine. E.g.,"Not a long time, AAnanda, will holy living remain preserved; five hundred years, AAnanda, will the Doctrine of the truth abide." (Oldenberg, op. cit., p.387. Text not given.)
(37)Edward J.Thomas, The Life of Buddha as Legend and History (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Tr乥ner and Company, 1927), p.202.
(38)Sa^myutta Nikaaya v.437. Edward J.Thomas, Early Buddhist Scriptures (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Tr乥ner and Company, 1935), pp.117,118. (39) Suutra on the Cause and Effect in the Past and Present, Quoted by D.T. Suzuki, in Eassays in Zen Buddhism, First Series (London: Rider and Company, 1927), p.47, footnote 1.
(40) Indian Philosophy, Vol. I, pp.466. See also Oldenberg, op. cit., p.273.
(41) Mahaa Parinibbaana Sutta, Diigha Nikaaya ii. 100. T.W. and C.A.F. Rhys Davids, trans., Dialogues of the Buddha, Part II, Sacred Books of the Buddhists, Vol. III (London: Oxford University Press, 1910). p.107.
(42) T.W. Rhys Davids, trans., The Question of King Milinda iv. 1. 8. The Sacred Books of the East, Vol.XXXV (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1890), p.142.
(43) The Questions of King Milinda iv. 4. 4, ibid., p.264.
(44) Ibid., p.142, footnote 3.
(45) Ibid., p.268, footnote 3 (footnote begins on p.267)
(49) Mahaavagga vi. 31.7. T.W. Rhys Davids and Hermann Oldenberg, trans., Vinaya Texts, Part II, The Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XVII (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1882), p.112.
(50) Sa.myutta Nikaaya. Oldenberg, op.cit., pp.279,280.
(51) La^nkaavataara Suutra. Goddard, op.cit., p.286.
(52) Vimalakiirti Suutra. Quoted by D.T. Suzuki, in Outlines of Mahaayaana, p.107.
(53) Majihima Nikaaya. Warren, op. cit., pp.118-122.
(47) L. de la Vall俥 Poussin, Bouddhisme (Paris: Gabriel Beauchesne and Company, 1909), p.139.
(54) Paasaadika Sutta, Diigha Hikaaya iii.136 T.W. and C.A.F. Rhys Davids, trans., Dialogues of the Buddha, Part III, Sacred Books of the Buddhists, Vol.IV (London: Oxford University Press, 1921), p.128.
(55) Sa^myutta Nikaaya v.437. Thomas, Early Buddhist Scriptures, p.118.
(56) Kevaddha Sutta, op. cit., Vol. II, p.278.