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Sunday 18 November 2012

Culture, Knowledge, Relativism and Bududahama - I

It has become necessary to respond to Prof. N. A. de S. Amaratunga at some length. However, it should not be considered only as a reply to him as I would be describing some of my views on existence of objects in the process. I have to apologise to the readers and the editor that, as has been the experience, I may have to interrupt the series if there is a necessity to comment on current affairs. The learned Professor in his articles published on 13th, 17th, and 26th of September has concentrated on two aspects. Firstly he maintains that Relativism is a Postmodernist characteristic and that Kuhn was a Relativist and hence a Postmodernist, and that I too being a Relativist, is a Postmodernist. Prof. de S. Amaratunga states that Kuhn had said science is relative to culture and that there have been others who have held the same view on western science. According to him I am only echoing the ideas of some western scholars. Secondly the Professor maintains that according to Theravada Bududahama the existence of objects is not denied in an objective way. In fact what he claims is that according to Theravada Bududahama objects exist objectively. I emphasise the word objectively as when one states that objects exist without mentioning that the existence is relative to something it is implied that one is concerned with the objective existence of objects. If Prof. de S. Amaratunga has been of the view that the objects exist relative to others then there would not have been a great difference between the views expressed by him and me.

In this series of articles I will take up the second matter first. There are several reasons for doing so, one being that I owe the readers an explanation of “existence of objects” I promised in my exchange of ideas with Prof. Y. Karunadasa. Secondly the question of existence of objects within Theravada Bududahama has to be discussed as it is one of the most important problems in Bududahama various scholars having given different answers to the question as to whether the objects exist over the last two thousand five hundred years or so. Thirdly I who had been Marxist (Trotskyite) and a western Physicist became a Relativist not after reading Postmodernists or Relativists in the west but having found difficulties in interpreting Quantum Physics while teaching that subject at the University of Colombo more than twenty five years ago. It has to be mentioned that the book “Concept and Reality” by Ven. Katukurunde Nnanananda Thero was influential in this regard. Fourthly this year marks the twenty fifth anniversary of the publication of “Mage Lokaya” in which I formally expressed my relativism, which I named “Constructive Relativism” (Nirmanathmaka Sapekshathavadaya), a work that was based on Bududahama. Fifthly I consider Bududahama to be relative and in my interpretation western Relativists are half baked Relativists some of whom throughout the past two centuries have tried to absorb the views expressed in Bududahama into their cultures without much success.

Let me first explain what is meant by existence of objects relative to something. This something though expressed inanimately is nothing but an observer who does not need not be a human being. The Devas, Animals, Prethas and other bhavikas (those who are borne in different bahvas) are also observers, though they are not considered as observers in western science including Relativistic Physics. Any “sathva” with a mind is considered to be an observer and objects exist only relative to these observers. However, the question arises as to whether these observers exist or not. The answer to that question is that they also do not exist though they think that they exist due to ‘moha’. If one were to assume that the observers exist objectively, that is without being relative to the same observer or other observers then one has to assume that either the observers exist for ever (shasvathavadi) or are annihilated at some stage (uchchedavadi). This the question that came up in the discussion with Prof. Karunadasa as well regarding the post mortem condition of Arhant. If the Arhant had lived (existed) objectively then after parinibbana either the Arhant had to continue to exist in some form or other (shasvathavadi), or would have extinguished without leaving any trace (uchchedavadi).

When I said in my article that appeared on the 22nd of September that “If one assumes that things exist without being relative to something then one has to either assume that they last forever (shasvathavada) or are destroyed after some time (uchchhedavada)” and that “I am not only neither a shasvatavadin nor an uchchedavadin but I do not exist as such” all that Prof. de S. Amaratunga could say on the 26th of September was “The Dhamma theory of the Abhidhamma provides a profound explanation of the empirical existence of life and matter which leaves no doubts and ambiguity in the mind of the Theravada Buddhist about the nature of his/her own existence.” Now if Prof. de S. Amaratunga or Prof. Karunadasa whom has been quoted by the former has no ambiguity that either exists empirically (this cannot mean anything but objectively in the present context) it amounts to “athmavada” and either should be able to explain what happens to either of them after Parinibbana having first attained Nibbana. It is true that one could attain Nibbana in the present Bhava and continue to be with the body and the “mind” until parinibbana. I wanted an explanation from Prof. Karunadasa as to the difference between Sopadhisesa Nibbana and Nirupadisesa Nibbana but unfortunately his busy schedule prevented him from giving an answer to that query.

The observer (sathva) exists first relative to him (he/she/it are all included under he). I do not exist objectively as such but relative to me. It is “I” who construct “I” and recognize that a so called “I” exists. It is all due to Avidya that one constructs oneself and if not for “moha” there would not have been an “I”. Having constructed the “I”, the observer or “I” goes on to construct the so called world that includes the mother, father and the rest of inanimate and animate world relative to him. It is the recognition of an “I” in the absence of such “I” that keeps one doing the sansaric motion which is “dukkha” to the self assumed “I”. The mind had recognized that an “I” exist though “I” is nothing but an illusion of the so called mind. The most interesting thing is that there is no mind as well that exists objectively and I have attempted to explain in the article “Sinhala Bauddha Manasa” that the mind is constructed by the mind! I now find that the ideas expressed in this particular article are crude, and at present I am developing them further in my series of articles “Ape Pravada” written to “Vidusara”. Now what happens when “one” attains Nibbana is to “realize” that the assumption that “one” exists is wrong. “One” is on sansaric journey due to “moha” that “one” exists when there is no “one” as such. There is no “one” to continue eternally (shasvathavadi) or to destroy at some stage (uchchedavadi). It is the realization that no “one” exists. It is the realization that no “mind” exists. It is realized by a “Lokottara Citta” clearly indicating that it is not the “normal citta” that realizes that no “mind” exists. This obviously needs further elucidation, and “I” will come back to it later, though there is no “I” as such.

Before concluding this installment I would like to draw the attention of the reader to the following from the article by Prof. de S. Amaratunga on the 26th of September. “Therefore, this school was identified as eternalist (shasvathavada). The latter school, Sauthanthrica, on the other hand, rejected this view and propounded a philosophy that advocated a type of nihilism (uchchedavada). Prof.Silva’s ideas on existence are similar to those of Sauthanthrica. Prof. Silva seems to be of the opinion that according to ‘uchchedavada’ things "are destroyed after sometime". This is totally wrong, for according to uchchedavada (nihilism) nothing exists at all (my emphasis). Prof. Silva says he is not an uchchedavadin but yet he says there is no existence. Therefore he cannot say he is not an uchchedavadin”. If the learned Professor had contemplated on the word uchchedavda he would not have made this statement. Uchcheda is derived from the word cheda with which any student in GCE (O/L) classes is familiar. Cheda is to cut, intersect etc. and to cheda or to cut, destroy etc., something has to exist of course relative to something. As we have explained this something is an “observer” (sathva) which could also be the self. Uchchedavda is annihilationism, if we may coin a word as opposed to eternalism or shasvathavada. Uchchedavada is definitely not nihilism which could be translated as shunyathavada if one insists. Prof. de S. Amaratunga, I am afraid, is confused by the words he uses.

Copyright Prof. Nalin De Silva