Reply to Opperman
Posted on May 30th, 2014

By Shelton A. Gunaratne

Paul Opperman (“An argument based on silliness,” The Forum, May 11, 2014) questions the purpose of my essay titled “Natural law says it’s all in flux” published a week earlier on May 4, 2014).

My purpose was to point out the Buddhist approach to conflict resolution that is hardly known and discussed in this part of the world.

Opperman says “the reader has to doubt” the sincerity of my “closing call for dialogue” between the Sinhalese and the Tamils in Sri Lanka “when the apparent purpose of most of the essay” was to elevate that the Buddhist doctrine of no self  (anatta) as true while downgrading the beliefs of other faiths as “false because they hold doctrines of some kind of permanent self or immortal life.”

Thus Opperman disingenuously creates an Aunt Sally, better known as a straw man, by inferring that the apparent purpose of my essay was to denigrate those who believe in self or soul (atta). This inference is vastly different from my intended purpose.

My explication of the concept of anatta (no self) was solely to illustrate the distinct difference between Buddhism and theistic religions.

Opperman then comes to the defence of the Tamils by accusing me of “silliness” because, in his view I try to associate their unsatisfactory state with their various beliefs in a permanent self, which makes them greedy. This is another of Opperman’s disingenuous attempts to mislead.

The Four Noble Truths is applicable to all   humanity, not just the Tamils or the Sinhalese.  Mine was not an attempt to blame the Tamils, but an appeal for both parties to come together. The blame lies in Sinhalese who don’t observe the Buddhist doctrine as well.

Opperman also says I was “silly’ for trying to combine belief in self/soul with the three marks of existence–inconstancy, no self and unsatisfactoriness””encompassing the Four Noble Truths. What I tried to do was to explain the dynamics of the doctrine of dependent co-arising for the uninitiated.

Buddha himself never claimed to be a god, and he kept silent on the question of a creator God.

As evident in Kalama Sutta, Buddha did not try to impose his doctrine on anyone else. It was entirely up to each sentient being to find out the truth through personal experience.

Let me ask Opperman a “silly” question: Do you believe you have a soul/self that will remain constant from birth to death and then until the Day of Judgment?

My hunch is you do. If you had understood that you had no self, you would not have created an Aunt Sally to prove my silliness.

I am an imperfect Buddhist. If I realized I had no self, I would have not replied to your response. I am still clinging on to the silly delusion of ego, a facet of my “self.”

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