The Buddhist Philosophy and Critical Thinking
Posted on March 8th, 2017
Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge
The Buddha’s Charter of Free Inquiry and judging truth are found in the Kalama Sutra of the Anguttara Nikaya. In Kalama Sutra Buddha emphasized the importance of critical thinking that involves seeing things in an open-minded way. Critical thinking helps to evaluate and challenge the thoughts and ideas and rethink conclusions in the light of new knowledge.
Buddhism was conceived as a rational way of thought, being entirely in accordance with the latest findings of the natural sciences and Buddhism was not based on ‘dogmas of blind belief and revelation, but on rational thought and experiential examination. (Martin Baumann – Global Buddhism: developmental periods, regional histories, and a new analytical perspective – Journal of Global Buddhism 2001)
In 1987, Michael Scriven & Richard Paul gave a detailed description on Critical Thinking. According to Michael Scriven & Richard Paul Criticalthinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness. It entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference. Critical thinking — in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes — is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophicalthinking.
The Kalama Sutra and the Modern Scientific Method
Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena acquiring new knowledge or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. It is based on principles and empirical processes of discovery and demonstration considered characteristic of or necessary for scientific investigation, generally involving the observation of phenomena, the formulation of a hypothesis concerning the phenomena, experimentation to demonstrate the truth or falseness of the hypothesis, and a conclusion that validates or modifies the hypothesis. Scientific inquiry is generally intended to be as objective as possible, to reduce biased interpretations of results.
In Kalama Sutra, the Lord Buddha encouraged critical thinking. These are the words of the Lord Buddha in Kalama Sutra
Do not go by revelation or tradition, do not go by rumour, or the sacred scriptures, do not go by hearsay or mere logic, do not go by bias towards a notion or by another person’s seeming ability and do not go by the idea “He is our teacher”. But when you yourself know that a thing is good, that it is not blamable, that it is praised by the wise.
(Come Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumour; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, “The monk is our teacher.” Kalamas, when you yourselves know: “These things are bad; these things are blameable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,” abandon them.’Kalama Sutta -Translated from the Pali by Soma Thera The Wheel Publication No. 8 )
According to Bertrand Russell Buddhism is a combination of both speculative and scientific philosophy. It advocates the scientific method and pursues that to a finality that may be called Rationalistic. In it are to be found answers to such questions of interest as: ‘What is mind and matter? Of them, which is of greater importance? Is the universe moving towards a goal? What is man’s position? Is there living that is noble?’ It takes up where science cannot lead because of the limitations of the latter’s instruments. Its conquests are those of the mind.
Gay Watson of the University of London makes a comparison between modern science and Buddhism. He further says that the Buddhism, based as it is upon experience and a psychological understanding of body and mind, is one of the oldest systems of thought yet most in tune with contemporary neuroscience and with other strands of contemporary discourse.
Scientific methods are the procedures, or steps used to gain information on something previously unknown. It is a method for investigating phenomena and acquiring new knowledge. The Scientific Method helps to organize thoughts and procedures within limited parameters. However, there are explicit differences between science and Buddhism. Ven Walpola Rahula highlights this fact more elegantly in his writings. Ven Rahula states that Buddhism aims at the discovery and the study of humankind’s inner world: ethical, spiritual, psychological, and intellectual. Buddhism is a spiritual and psychological discipline that deals with humanity in total. It is a way of life. It is a path to follow and practice.