Taken as Given
It appears in early Buddhism, that philosophy as such was stunted from its very outset. There is the tendancy first of all to treat philosophy as a means of arriving at a perscribed end, namely, the Buddha Dhamma. Discourse tends to take the form not of discussion, but rather as a process to develop understanding of some doctrinal point or another. There is little inquiry as such into the modes of reasoning.
In a system where the answers are all given, the philosopher is truly stifled. There is no where for him or her to move in exegesis except in the explosion of dogmatically given assertions. Thus we recieve the Abhidhamma. These texts cannot properly be considered philosophy. They do not present a problem and offer the unfolding of truth, nor do they present a dialectical pursuit. The Abhidhamma, rather, is preaching to the choir. It is assuming from the outset that one is extremely well versed in the doctrines of buddhism, and is approaching these texts for the refinement of the explication of those tennets. There is no room for argumentation with the Dhamma as such; indeed there is little engagement with it. The entire course of the Abhidhamma is an external elucidation. We never penetrate the teachings to reach a deeper understanding, but rather are perpetually circling from the outside a series of explications, elucidations, explosions.
The Points of Controversies are a fine example of this. The question of being is indeed addressed. But there is no discussion of the controversy, or presentation of arguments internal to the discussion. There is rather, a stance taken and a refutation of that stance from the perspective of the Theravadin. The term Theravadin can be explained as "the teaching of the elders." Indeed one is not given these texts to study until one is quite old. In the Patthana we see that we are given 75,000 stock answers to "every possible question" of conditional relations. The nature of the "conditions" themselves is taken for granted, or rather, taken as given by Siddharta Gotama in the Suttanta
It is clear that this was not to be the case for long. Indeed, within a few years of the Buddha's passing, and even within his life we see the seeds of schism sprouting. As a matter of fact, there are two points of doctrine we could mention that directly necessitate the preexistence of these seeds. First, philosophical discourse is classed as Idle Speech as a sin; speculative philosophy is withheld from the Sangha as an acceptible pasttime. The Buddha rightly saw that when given to speculate about the teaching, schisms would inevitably arrise. Therefore, secondly, the creating of schisms in the Sangha is considered one of the greatest crimes a monk could commit. It ranks with murder on the scale of wrongs.
The banishment of speculative philosophy and the insistance upon absolute, unquestioning faith in the buddha sends up bright orange warning flags in the minds of westerners. Freedom of thought is considered an right, a virtue, and a necessity of higher development. This is the talk of cult leaders, not learned philosophers. However, consider that the Buddha was not, properly speaking, interested in philosophy. For Siddhartha, philosophy is a Machiavellian means-to-an-end, and not an end in itself. Indeed, it is a phase to be glossed over with the least attention expended possible. The path to enlightenment in Buddhism is not the path of philosophy. It does not involve words, and it barely involves cognizible content. There is a distinct phase, the fourth jnana, beyond which it is taught, concepts break down, and the content of that experience transcends logical discourse. The stages are referred to as the absorbtions, the unknowables.
For the Buddha Sakyamuni, then, of what use is philosophy? Why would he teach it, expound upon it, or encourage its pursuit, if ultimately, as he will show, it is all based upon illusion and suffering. The pursuit of philosophy, the endless cycle of deconstructing concepts into their radicals, roots, branches, sets, theories, schools, etc, is a pursuit of suffering, and therefore, truly empty of any value. Why then should we proceed even beyond this thought to the end of this current paragraph?
In his first sermon he professes the one ultimate truth that would guide the rest of his teaching. This sermon is known as "The turning of the Wheel of Dhamma." Heavens rejoiced and the earth shook, etc. The first sermon teaches the four noble truths "suffering" or "Dukkha," "the truth of suffering," "the cessation of suffering" and "the path to the cessation of suffering." Suffering is caused by a discrete process that can be summarized thus: Sense organ leads to sensation, sensation leads to sense contact, to sense consciousness, to desire for sensation; desire leads to clinging, clinging leads to craving, craving leads to suffering... (from the top of my head)... This doctrine of dependent origination is the buddhas one crowning glory in philosophy. This is the truth of suffering. Then there is the cessation of suffering, and the Eight-fold Path, dictating a moral code to follow, which if pursued unswervingly, will necessarily lead to the cessation of suffering.
So the million dollar question is clearly this: How, from such a simple dogmatically presented system, within a tightly controlled sangha where all answers are to be accepted as givens--where speculative philosophy and schism is specifically forbidden--do we arrive at a present day with uncounted schools of thought all claiming the title "Buddhist;" A Mahayana canon extending to 55 volumes in the latest printing, an "orthodox" Theravadin canon of at least two dozen volumes, and an expansive pantheon of deities in a deliberately a-theistic philosophy? (While the Buddha admits the existence of "extra-terrestrial" entities, gods if you will, they always prostrate to him, Sakyamuni--"lord-of-the-worlds", the "perfectly-self-enlightened-one", when they appear).
How indeed. The quest for philosophical knowlege, for exegesis, must be unquenchable, or at least inextricable from this cycle of suffering...
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