Every philosophical system reflects the contemporary tendencies found in society. Hence to understand a system of philosophy it is necessary to keep an eye on the contemporary circumstances, thought and their actions, re-actions. It is known through the Tripitak books that in Buddha’s time and before him the discussions of self, world, other world, sins and liberation etc., were very common. politically, the country was divided into different small states whose inhabitants used different languages. The philosophical systems did not assume a synthetic form so far.
The Vedas were considered to be sacred in the spiritual field. Most of the time was wasted in useless discussions and hair-splitting. In the moral field reasoning was given more importance than practice. In the philosophical field there were antagonistic views on almost every problems. Thus philosophy become a mental exercise or a verbal Jugglery. In the religious field there was more emphasis on miracles rather than communion with God. The ethics was based on religion and religion depended on God. Hence the importance of human efforts and the sense of responsibility was gradually disappearing. Everywhere one could find superstitions, useless discussions and irresponsible behavior.
Gautama Buddha revolted against these cotemporary tendencies and presented rational religion, practical ethics and simple principles of life. The important characteristics of this philosophy are as follows:
Aversion from discussion:
Though Buddha had always tried to explain his principles intellectually, but he usually avoided long discussions. In this sense he was anti-intellectualist. But towards superstition he had the approach of a modern scientist. Seeing the degeneration of faith, he emphasized experience and efforts. Buddha’s religion and ethics is based on reliance. the teachings of Buddha are more grounded in deep analysis and wide experience rather than intellectual discussions. The aim of Gautama was not intellectual discussion on the philosophical concepts, but liberation from miseries whether the body is not different form the self, whether the self is immortal or not, whether the world’s finite, or infinite, eternal or ephemeral, these are the philosophical questions about which he always kept silent.
This silence does not exhibit ignorance, but wisdom. It is well known that even after long discussion the philosophers of the East an West have failed to arrive at any final solution of these problems. Intellectual discussions of these philosophical topics have their own merit, but they hardly help in the achievement of liberation. Buddha explained the hollowness of the prevalent philosophical systems and emphasized the importance of the problem of liberation from misery. For a man who is engulfed in misery, the discussion of the fundamental nature of the self and the world seems to be mere folly or at best wastage of time.
According to Potth pad sutta, Buddha has considered it useless to search for the solution of the 10 philosophical questions and hence did not try for it. In pali literature of the Buddhist religion, these questions have been called, ‘Avyaktani’. Sometimes their number is even more than 10. These questions are as follows:
- Is the world eternal?
- is it non-eternal?
- Is it finite?
- Is it infinite?
- Is the body and self the same?
- Is the self different from body?
- Was the Tathagat re-born after death?
- Was he not born after death?
- Is there re-birth and also no re-birth?
- Are the re-birth and no re-birth both false?
From the practical stand point the answers to these questions are useless and from the philosophical stand point no final solution can be secured. Hence Buddha has not discussed them.
Another main characteristic of Buddha’s philosophy is pessimism. Buddha has taken the world as full of misery. Man’s duty is to attain liberation form this painful world. It is folly to hope for pleasure in this world. In this sense the teachings of Buddha can be said to be pessimistic. But then he suggested the remedies of these miseries and indicate the path of liberation. thus Buddha’s philosophy though begins in pessimism, Culminates into one of the most robust types of optimism.
Buddha has vehemently criticised blind faith in the traditional scriptures like Vedas etc. Due to faith in the doctrine of Karma he has not admitted the existence of God. In this teaching he has emphasized the real experience of life. He does not admit anything beyond the limits of efforts and understanding.
Thus Buddha’s teachings are most pragmatic. It is due to their pragmatic importance that Buddha has discussed the four great truths and said. It is by such a discussion that one gets same gain, it is these which are closely related with the basic principles of religion. It is these that detachment, destruction of passions, the end of miseries, mental peace, knowledge wisdom and nirvana may be possible. Buddha was not an agnostic, otherwise he should not have called himself the Buddha. As a matter of fact his stand point can be clarified by the following example-
Once when he was sitting under a Sinsupa tree, Buddha took some of the leaves in his hand and asked his disciples, whether they are all the leaves of the Sinsupa tree or there are more leaves of the tree. When the disciples answered that there are more leaves, Buddha said, Similarly, it is definite that there is much more than whatever I have told you. Further, Buddha has said that he has not told these things because they are not required for the attainment of peace, knowledge and nirvana.