The Validity of the Buddhist Approach to Reality
Posted on March 17th, 2020

by Professor Carlo Fonseka Courtesy: The Buddhist (YMBA)

After much thought, I have become convinced of the validity of the Buddhist approach to human conditions. I will tell you very briefly, as to how I arrived at that conviction. 

A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

I was born into a Roman Catholic family and received a very orthodox Roman Catholic education until about the age of eighteen. I believed in the central teachings of Roman Catholicism , namely the existence of an all mighty GOD WHO CREATED THE WORLD, and the existence of an IMMORTAL SOUL in man. When in the University entrance class at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, I had the privilege of being taught Apologetics,, i.e. Advanced Catholic Religious Knowledge, by the Reverend Father Peter Pillai, a Master of Arts, a Master of Science and a Doctor of Divinity, a well known Educationalist. He was a very clever and holy man. To tell the truth, it was during a College class lesson given by him that, I strongly felt had doubts about the existence of a God. He discussed the proofs of existence of God, as was formulated by St. Thomas Aquinas. (Christian Theologian) He said there are five proofs. They are: (1) Proof of reference to motion. God is unknown to motion. (2) Proof of reference to efficient Authors. God is the upcaused cause. (3) Proof to necessity and contingency. God is the only necessary being. (4) Proof by reference to gradations. In the world, God is the perfect being. (5) Proof with reference to Order in the universe. God is the Ordainer of all. Having explained these matters, he went on to say something that shocked me, greatly. 

He said that according to St. Thomas Aquinas. THAT ALTHOUGH THE EXISTENCE OF GOD COULD BE ESTABLISHED, REASON ALONE CANNOT PROVE THAT GOD CREATED THE WORLD. For that he said, we have to go to the REVELATION. So according to St. Thomas Aquinas, we believe that God created the world, THE BIBLE TELLS US TO. That disturbed me. If indeed, we cannot prove that God created the world, then it is possible that the world was, is, and will be. Further, there was so need to postulate that God created the world! So my faith, in that God created the world was shaken up. Once that fundamental belief was shaken, the other Christian beliefs came under scrutiny. 

Next was the existence of an immortal SOUL. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the soul was found in every part of the human body. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, it was not located in any one place, such as in the brain. But the soul is not transmitted in the semen. St. Thomas believed that the woman was like a pot, and the male planted the seed in the pot, so that everything substantial came from plan. St. Thomas concluded that, SOUL WAS CREATED AT EVERY ACT OF CONCEPTION BY GOD, AND HE INTERVENED TO CREATE THE SOUL. This puzzled me. Take the case of a woman who is raped by an unknown person and conceives during the act. Does God intervene to create a soul for the child that is conceived? If so, is God and accomplice in the act of rape? Such thoughts came into my mind. St. Thomas Aquinas, the classic exponent of the Roman Catholic teachings said that, even animals have souls. But the souls of animals were not immortal. Now, I began to wonder about the Chimpanzee. Years later, I learnt that this particular animal shares with us 98.4 per cent of its genes. So we differ genetically from the Chimpanzee by only 1.6 per cent. BUT THE CHIMPANZEEE’s have souls which PERISH with death. Then how about man? Could not man’s soul also perish? So my belief in a SOUL came to be seriously shaken. 

But there was even a more disturbing thought. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that IN ORDER TO ENTER HEAVEN ROMAN CATHOLICS MUST BE BAPTISED. This meant, if there is no Baptism, then there is no heaven for people. 

I have many dear relatives and friends who are Buddhists and in that background this was a very horrible thought. They have then to go to Hell. It seems horrible, unfair and unjust. So when I entered the University of Ceylon, Colombo, at the age of 20, I was a man without a Religion. During the next ten years or so I was deeply involved in my medical studies. My Medical College colleagues present here today, will confirm that medical science deals with the release of human (and animal) suffering caused by disease. This fact is known to medical men based on knowledge acquired by certain methods such as positioning, testing and application of medicines. The results that ensued my own belief in medical knowledge became firm. But, now and then patients died, and I was not sure whether medical men make in such instances diagnostic errors, or whether the treatment was not efficacious. The same skepticism or doubting began at times to apply in the field of medicine too. Gradually, I became interested in Epistemology i.e. the branch that deals with method or ground of knowledge. 

IN SEARCH OF TRUTH

Epistemology is concerned with how we come to know, and what we claim to know. How reliable is our knowledge? How do we know what we came to know is TRUE? I then indulged in wide reading, especially books written by Bertrand Russell and A.J. Ayer. A little book (Penguin series) THE PROBLEM OF KNOWLEDGE by A.J. Ayer, a famous English Philosopher influenced me. Finally, I came to realize that in order to claim and know something it is necessary to satisfy three conditions. (a) The problem of defining the necessary and sufficient grounds that something IS TRUE. In the practice of the Law profession, Lawyers are careful in the application of the Law of Evidence, and in the scientific enterprise the three conditions as set out by Ayer are fulfilled. 

He said, WHAT I CAME TO KNOW MUST BE TRUE. Secondly, I MUST BE SURE THAT IS TRUE, Thirdly, I MUST HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE SURE THAT IT IS TRUE. This is the essence of the talk that I am giving today. Suppose, I claim to know that there is a Mango Tree in this garden near the Hall. I say it is a piece of knowledge. Therefore, it must really be a Mango Tree. But that is not enough to make it a valid claim that, I know there is a Mango Tree. The second condition is that I MUST BE SURE THERE IS A MANGO TREE OUTSIDE THE HALL. I cannot judge or guess. Why should I be sure? Cannot I make a mistake? Cannot it not be subject to an illusion or hallucination or a delusion? Hallucinations and delusions are well known symptoms of insanity. It can also be a form of error. Therefore, we need a third condition. i.e. THE RIGHT TO BE SURE. 

In Science, this Right is won BY PUBLIC CHECKABILITY, of the evidence the claim is made on. Why? Because there can be disagreement. I may say the tree is a Mango tree, but someone else may say it is some other tree. TRUTH LIES THERE as expounded by Philosophers and Scientists. By this method, Scientists have made material advances….. to split the Atom, produce Satellites and for man to explore the moon etc. 

THE BUDDHIST OUTLOOK

In my readings about the Buddha, Smith (a Prof. of Anthropology) has stated that Buddhism is unique because it DOES NOT SHARE SIX CHARACTERISTICS AS SEEM IN SIX OTHER CLASSICAL RELIGIONS such as Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam. 

What are they? 

(1) AUTHORITY i.e. validity of what is believed (faith) derived from a source. The Buddha Dharma (Buddhist Philosophy) stands by itself.

(2) RITUAL. In strict Theravada Buddhism there is no place for ritual (Popular corrupted Buddhism does see ritual). Other Religions have Ritual.

(3) Speculation: This is absent in Buddhism. 

(4) Mystery: There is no place for mystery in the teaching of Gautama Buddha. 

(5) Divine: Belief in a supreme creator god or a son of God, or of a Messiah. (The Buddha Dharma leads:- Shows the Way to man)”. 

In that background, I say the Buddhist approach to reality is valid. It is a scientific approach. The scientific approach has led to great material, stunning achievements for the well-being of man. One of the foremost scholars of the past century, the Late Prof. K.N. Jayatilleke, Ph.D. (Cantab) in his monumental work The early Buddhist theory of knowledge had stated that, everything what the Buddha referred to (The Identification of Suffering: the Cause of Suffering, the Path that leads to the end of suffering on earth; the Law of Dependent Origination etc.) are locatable in the empirical stream, excepting one – NIBBANA. 

Nibbana (is beyond logic and reasoning, it is realization of the truth) cannot be apprehended and it cannot be described. It is the extinction of the fire of desire, (Lobha, Dhosa and Moha). To clench his argument, Prof. Jayatilleke used, as the last statement of his work, (The words of his guru at Cambridge University, Prof. Luwig Wittengstein, who wrote: TRACTATUS LOGICO PHILOSOPHICUS”). It says: Thereof one cannot speak, Thereof one must be silent” .

Before the days proceedings ended, it was mentioned that the reference to Nibbana, made known by Prof. K.N. Jayatilleke has been confirmed as correct, by the American Jewish Scholar, Bhikkhu Bodhi, (Ph.D). of Kandy  

Courtesy: The Buddhist (YMBA)

Vol : CXXXVIII – BE – 2561- NOV. – CE – 2017 – No. 03  

https://colomboymba.org/images/PDF/nov_2017.pdf

31 November – 2017   

2 Responses to “The Validity of the Buddhist Approach to Reality”

  1. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    Covid-19 no doubt going to change the world. The root cause for all the problems world facing today is due to
    population explosion. In the past few decades world population has quadrupled and all these new mouths need
    loads and loads of resources. It’s not just that they create a lot of pollution too. From a sparsely populated place
    to a planet bursting at the seams. In some big cities of the world have populations bigger than some countries’.
    Add to this you have nukes, biological weapons, plastic menace, wars, refugees, global warming,green house
    gases, diseases, floods, droughts, jungles being cleared, alarmingly high births (especially from the fastest
    breeding religion aka religion of peace followers) etc. etc.

    We’ve got everything! Only thing lack is a plan to fix it. World leaders don’t know even there is a big problem since they are busy planning to outfox the rivals or exploit poor nations be more powerful or richer. We are doomed!
    Only a mad man or corrupt deshapaluwa will bet against it.

    To cope with this burgeoning population farmers, food manufactures adapt new techniques (short cuts), of course to maximise profits. A prime example is the use of antibiotics in animal feeds which make sure livestock go
    without having any diseases to the two legged creatures’ shopping basket after wrapping up nicely in, of course
    a nice plastic packaging. The two legged creature after divulging these for sometime become antibiotics resistant and scientists have to find a new fix to fix the two legged creature. Livestock also have diseases since they don’t have doctors and hospitals, and they pass on their diseases to the two legged creatures (their revenge).
    Moreover, they create a lot of green house gases too plus forests have to be cleared to rear them. When food
    is in short supply, people start eating all sort of things. After all, two legged creature’s distant relative chimp
    isn’t a meat eater. If you look at your teeth in the mirror it tells you what sort of diet you should be eating (it’s different from your cat’s, dog’s). The Buddha preached this over 2,500 years ago (First Precept).

    The Buddha preached how to live their lives over 2,500 years ago in Buddhism’s Five Precepts. Today, all the
    law courts under the sun use the Five Precepts to punish culprits who break them. Yet, Buddha’s teachings are
    frowned upon and instead people follow mythical gods since they don’t advice to refrain from breaking The Five
    Precepts. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution which buried the gods showed the world we had to evolve for millions
    to be two legged creatures (just like The Buddha explained). The Buddha also explained the universe is a vast
    vast vast vast vast place. NASA’s missions have proved this many times. Light years, exoplanets, etc. etc. bury
    gods again and again. Yet people are reluctant to accept them and follow religions of conveniences and don’t
    care about anybody or anything but themselves.

    Covid-19 have shown these two legged creatures change or you’ll perish. It doen’st differentiate rich, poor, powerful, powerless and dishes out the same fate, Two legged creatures should stop being greedy, stop having
    too many children to be kind to the planet. Some people think the best way to wrestle control is to keep producing votes using baby machines year in year out. This is what happened to old Buddhist iran, afganisthan, pakesthan, bangladesh, maldive, malaysia and indonesia several hundred years of the mussie arrivals in those countries with their baby machine wives. Today, all of them are mussie countries with more than a billion people.

    Covid-19 going to change the world and it’s telling these deshapaluwa’s to change their ways how to run their
    countries. Follow what The Buddha preached over 2,500 years ago. Science has proven His teaching to be true
    again and again. What’s more it’s the way to live on this planet and be safe from these disasters, natural and
    man-made!

  2. Nihal Perera Says:

    I completely agree with the author of the above article, and the comments by Ancient Sinhalaya..

    One of the key aspect of Buddhism is how closely integrated its teaching to the nature. No other religion in the world has such a respect nor a close connection to the nature as Buddhism does. The Buddha himself having spent many years of his life in the forest and a natural environment knew more than anybody how important the nature and the environment to the living beings which include animals and humans. He even considered the plants and trees were living beings.

    Unfortunately, the world today led by the modern technology seems to have totally ignored the importance of mother nature, and the environment. The results are the man-made disasters of epic proportions.

    In my opinion, the corona virus is a serious warning to the whole world that unless the humans get their act together and open their eyes to the serious damage been done to the environment, and the mother nature, there will be many more disasters to follow.

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