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What the Buddha Wouldn’t Say

There were questions Buddha refused to answer. But maybe some questions shouldn't be answered.

Charlie Martin


July 21, 2013 - 4:00 pm
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Along with all my other rants about the way Buddhism is misunderstood, one bunch of misunderstandings and misconceptions that I can’t blame on the Victorian translations are the ones that come bundled with the word “religion”. Because all the dominant religions in the West are “Abrahamic” and derived from Judaism, we have a very deeply ingrained belief that all religion uniformly believes in a single God or chief god. In fact, a dictionary definition gives:

the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods: ideas about the relationship between science and religion.

a particular system of faith and worship: the world’s great religions.

Then along comes Buddhism. Not only does Buddhism not prescribe a belief in a particular god, when questioned about it, old Siddhartha got very cagey about talking about it at all. Various sutras talk about various believers in other things coming to debate the Buddha, and traditionally there are ten (or fourteen if you’re in a Mahayana tradition like me) things that Buddha repeatedly refused to get into. These became known as the Fourteen Unanswerable Questions, (Sanskrit: Avyakrta) and so as not to keep you in suspense, these are:

  • Is the world eternal? Is it not? is it both? Is it neither?
  • Is the world finite? Is it infinite? Is it both? Is it neither?
  • Is the self identical to the body? Is it different or separate from the body?
  • Does an enlightened being continue to exist after death? Or not? Both? Neither?

Theravada Buddhists leave off the both or neither questions on the first two, which is why they only have only ten unanswerable questions. Clearly, Mahayana is superior.

Yes, that was a joke.

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Charlie sets up a series of antithetical questions in the form of: Is X so or is X not so or is neither affirmation nor negation true. I am limiting myself just to the first question, trying to understand just what Charlie/Buddha finds interrogatively irrelevant. So, I think it appropiate that Charlie inform me what "infinity" and what "finitude" mean. If the meaning is not clear I simply cannot say whether the "what is X?" question is justifiably avoidable. Failure of insight here leaves such mighty questions to be but fanciful words. So?

In all the antitheses proposed one verb is repeated as essential, namely "is". What does "is" mean or, more universally formulated, what does "being", viz., "esse" mean? Spell out the ontology entailed here. Without an answer here, I find myself faced with flashy superficiality of dazzling wisdom.

Charlies loves to cite dicctionaries. It may be worthwhileto consult learned dictionaries of philosophy, rather than the one on top of one's desk. A dictionary definition of God reveals little more than some common place usage. Let me, for my part, inject one definition, namely "God is Being infinitely" or "Deus est esse infinite". For rejection of my definition, not to mention for a comprehension of the terms it would seem that "is" and "infinite" and "finite" pop up again and demand clarification. One thing is clear, namely: the "is finite" and "is infinite" elements cast aside by Charlies must be pulled back or the criticism of "God" is another example of Charlie-semantics, i.e., vacuous emptiness (sounds Buddhistic here, no?).

Finally, Charlie, you are proclaiming a doctrine of "salvation" or whatever variant designation you want. Fine! Indeed, excellent!! Why not just offer instructions about doing this or that with the advice to wait and see what is experienced? Period, nothing more! Silence!! Instead you drag in a plethora of sublimie abstractions, some to be rejected and others accepted, all of which have occupied the minds of philosophers in West and probably in the East for eons. I do not understand the apparent need to delve into a theoretical realm about which you seem to know little, i.e., other than on a dictionary basis. And that is not wisdom! Does my suggestion hold water?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And I think it's appropriate to point out that if the Buddha refused to answer thease questions, how can I?

Nice try though.
1 year ago
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