Main Logo

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Understanding Bududahama

It is Vesak again. It is the day the ascetic Siddhartha (Siduhath Thavusa) attained Buddhahood or became Samma Sambuddha. I have found that understanding Bududahama is much more difficult than fathoming Relativity, Quantum Physics, western Mathematics or western Philosophy or any other system of knowledge that I have some acquaintance, and it is amazing that this Dhamma has survived for more than two thousand five hundred years not only as a Dahama but as a way of life or religion or whatever one calls it. In Bududahama what is important is the “knowledge” gained by the Nobles (Aryan or Arhants) and we prthagjanas are encouraged to “acquire” this particular “knowledge” and attain Nibbana. I write certain words in parentheses as I am not quite sure of what they mean with respect to the Nobles. I do not want to pretend that I “know” Bududahama on this Vesak day, as had I “known” Bududahama I have a feeling that I would have attained Nibbana and would not have written this article at least in this form.

I try to be non sarcastic on this Vesak day as much as possible, but if I exceed my limits then it is because I am a prthagjana who does not understand Bududahama.  How many of us understand the following quoted from Kaccayanagotta Sutta as translated by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikku. “'Everything exists': That is one extreme. 'Everything doesn't exist': That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle: From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications .. .. ..”.  It is not difficult to repeat this ad nauseam without understanding it. How many times this Sutta has been repeated by learned Bhikkus and laymen during the last two thousand years? What is meant by avoiding the two extremes mentioned in the Sutta? Does the world exist or not? Is it a wrong question? How many of us understand the “dasa avyakatha prashna”?  How many Ph. D. theses have been written on these problems without offering a convincing answer?

Budunvahanse or Tathagatha (I do not want to ask the meaning of Tathagatha as it would create more problems) often avoids dualities with respect to the knowledge of (created by) the Prthagjanas, and teaches Dhamma via the middle as the Ven. Thanissaro Bhikku has said. What is said is that A paccaya B. It may be translated as if A exists then B exists. Also the “nirodha” is valid. That is if not A then not B. If not for the “nirodha” we would not be able to attain Nibbana. The prthagjana experience is limited to a world where two valued two fold Aristotelian logic is valid. I suppose it is not quite true and what I should have said is that the prthagjana (if one wants human) experience is such that it leads to the creation of Aristotelian logic. Thus the world either exists or does not exist. If A is true then not A is false and vice versa. However, Kaccayanagotta Sutta states it is wrong to say that the world exists or does not exist. It goes against our experience, and who said that Bududahama is empirical in the western sense? This new kind of experience (whose experience?) leads to catuskotika logic according to which the world could neither exist nor does not exist. In Catuskoti both A and not A could be true or both A and not A could be false (refer na ca so na ca anno in Milinda Prashnaya). In western knowledge the closet that comes to mind is Quantum Physics where a particle could go through two slits at the same time. In other words the particle is at A as well as not at A. No wonder that Richard Feynman said that nobody understood Quantum Physics!   

Imagining a God, Brahman or even a Nirgun Brahman as in Advaitha Vedantha is not difficult compared with imagining a world that neither exists or does not exist. Try to imagine Nibbana as Sunya and that would drive some Theravadins to declare that Sunya is a Mahayana concept that is not valid! This is in spite of Budunvahanse having mentioned Anicca, Dukkha, Anaththa and Sunya at least on a few occasions.

It should not be thought that Budunvahanse always avoided “dualities”, especially when they did not belong to the same system. After all twofold logic is included in Catuskoti or fourfold logic, and if A is true then not A is false is not discarded in certain cases. Consider the case of Atma (soul). Budunvahanse has not stated that there is neither Atma nor Anatma. Some scholars in their eagerness to avoid dualities would not talk of Anatma or Anatta as they think it is one extreme or by stating Anatta one assumes Atta or Athma. If that is the case then one cannot state Anicca as it is also an extreme and one cannot state Anicca without assuming Nicca or Nithya. These contradictions by scholars arise as they want to impress the westerners that Bududahama is empirical. Anithya may be empirical as everything changes over time (it is the other way around as time is a concept that has been formulated , in fact a pannatti as stated in Attasalini by Ven. Buddhaghosha Thero, after observing change) but Anathma is a different kettle of fish, where Athma appears to be empirical.

Ven. Nagarjunapada has tried to avoid dualities by referring to them as relative concepts as in the case of light relative to dark but it appears that the Thero has made the terrible mistake of considering Samsara relative to Nibbana. The trouble with words such as Anicca, Anatta and Nibbana is that the prthagjanas use them as if they are concepts and they should not be considered as extremes or ends of dualities (dvikotika) as in the case of light and dark. While Nitya, Athma and Samsara are concepts that belong to the system of knowledge that the prthagjanas have created due to Avidya, Anicca, Anatta and Nibbana seem to belong to “knowledge” of the Nobles or Arhants. The former is in the sphere of prthagjanas while the latter is “understood” by the Arhants. The duality between the prathagjanas and the Arhants has not been discarded by Budunvahanse and Dvayatanupassana Sutta exemplifies it very well.        

The following is from the Selected Texts from the Sutta Nipata by John D. Ireland. They are some “gathas” from the Dvayatanupassana Sutta and I reproduce what has been given by Ireland. "See how the world together with the devas has self-conceit for what is not-self. Enclosed by mind-and-body it imagines, 'This is real.' Whatever they imagine it to be, it is quite different from that. It is unreal, of a false nature and perishable. Nibbana, not false in nature,  that the Noble Ones know as true. Indeed, by the penetration of the true, they are completely stilled and realize final deliverance.

"Forms, sounds, tastes, scents, bodily contacts and ideas which are agreeable, pleasant and charming, all these, while they last, are deemed to be happiness by the world with its devas. But when they cease that is agreed by all to be unsatisfactory. By the Noble Ones, the cessation of the existing body is seen as happiness. This is the reverse of the outlook of the whole world.

"What others call happiness, that the Noble Ones declare to be suffering. What others call suffering, that the Noble Ones have found to be happiness. See how difficult it is to understand the Dhamma! Herein those without insight have completely gone astray. For those under the veil (of ignorance) it is obscured, for those who cannot see it is utter darkness. But for the good and the wise it is as obvious as the light for those who can see. Even though close to it, the witless who do not know the Dhamma, do not comprehend it.

"By those overcome by attachment to existence, those who drift with the stream of existence, those in the realm of Mara, this Dhamma is not properly understood. Who other than the Noble Ones, are fit to fully understand that state, by perfect knowledge of which they realize final deliverance, free from defilements?"

This Sutta may be one of the few Suttas that admit duality or dvyaitha. (I must admit that I have not read all the Suttas, and I may be wrong here). Budunvahanse has not stated that there are neither prthagjanas nor Arhants.  In any event, it shows that the knowledge of prthagjanas is different from the “knowledge” of Arhants. What the prthagjanas call happiness the Arhants “call” suffering. We may use words such as Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta and Nibbana but they remain mere words to us until we understand Bududahama and attain Nibbana. In a sense one attains Nibbana by eradicating one’s knowledge. May even the scholars who are Buddhists  attain Nibbana!    

Nalin De Silva