The only person I really care about in philosophy (or psychology for that matter) is Gautama the Buddha. None has scaled the same genial heights before or after him. He, in his great intellect, was kind to dismiss the spurious questions about ‘where people come from and goes to’ and all such foolishness and would only advice us about the real cause of suffering and about its elimination.
I know that his followers erected edifices of giant proportions after the great master had sadly left us and went on his mighty ways, but that in no way diminishes the greatness of the man. And when I speak of ‘greatness’ I don’t mean the kind of greatness that we speak of nowadays. To us, a sportsman is great, a politician is great and a movie star is great. Well to an ant an elephant would be great, but in the case of the Buddha there is no one who comes within a billion miles to the range of that compassionate aura. He is unsurpassable.
This is how it always happens with me. The moment I start to speak about him I lose all dignity and sense and start to rave and I am not ashamed of it in the least bit. If we can’t rave about the only man our civilization has ever produced, then we are much better become turned into inanimate objects who can’t talk.
Just remembering his name is enough to purify one. As I have often stated he could be the only one who has reached the true state of Man and I define man as the sum total of every virtue that a human being can aspire to. This he definitely was and if anyone seeks an example how we should be true to our words then one should seek him out. He was the personification of everything that the humans have sought all through our history.
There was never an incident in his life where he has hurt someone by word or deed, and he never drove anyone away and turned his back on anybody. He was universally kind and had such absolute control over his mind. Well then he was totally the stuff a real teacher is made of.
All the same, merely praising the greatness of the man is not enough is it? This anyone can do, whether believingly (or believably) or not. Though I am not much into ontology and eschatology and the like and would probably beat the world record in making myself scarce if anyone broaches such subjects up, there is no harm in looking into what was produced in this man’s name; if it would light our way towards the truth isn’t it?
So I would like to place the ideas generated from his followers over the long course of history and would talk about them as well as I can for the coming few posts.
General background to Buddha
There is no real evidence that the Vedas and Upanishads existed in a written form when Buddha was around (They were written-down long afterwards but could have existed in oral form before the period). Yet it is safe to assume that he was familiar with the Samkhya and Yoga schools of thought since his teachings bear the signatures of these two ancient systems. He did not believe in the sacrifices the Vedas prescribed. Some say it was his distress with the practices of Brahmins that made him start a new school of thought altogether.
Buddha was called a ‘nastika’ (‘Atheist’ loosely) by all Hindu philosophers who criticized him. But the nastika of India is a bit different from the atheist of other parts of the world. Here it merely means that the person is against scriptures and not god. This was an important difference because all the great systems of thought in India except Vedanta were atheistic in nature. They either denied god altogether or firmly believed that if there are gods they are also subject to the law of Karma or are not important in the scheme of things. This was the belief of the Buddha as well!
But there were true atheists in India too like the Charvakas who denied even the scriptures and laughed at them. Interestingly they were called Lokayata’s or followers of the common-man’s philosophy! Isn’t it true that atheism is the true state of being in all forms of life and we only turn to god at times of severe distress!
I think it would warm your hearts to learn of the doctrine of the charvakas. They are the best exponents of materialism in the ancient India. Of course they did not believe in the scriptures and god and soul. To them life and consciousness were the products of the combination of matter. There is no after-life, and no reward of actions, as there is neither virtue nor vice. Life is only for enjoyment. So long as it lasts it is needless to think of anything else, as everything will end with death, for when at death the body is burnt to ashes there cannot be any rebirth.
There was another sect of atheists called Ajivikas too. They were great determinists denying the free will of man and his moral responsibility for any so-called good or evil. They believed that “there is no cause, either near or distant for the degradation of beings or for their goodness! Nothing depends either on one's own efforts or on the efforts of others, in short nothing depends on any human effort, for there is no such thing as power or energy, or human exertion. The varying conditions at any time are due to fate, to their environment and their own nature.”
Another school taught that there was no fruit or result of good or evil deeds; there is no other world, nor was this one real; nor had neither parents nor any former lives any efficacy with respect to this life. Nothing that we can do prevents any of us alike from being wholly brought to an end at death.
So the Buddha was born at a period when three significant streams of thought were in existence. First there was belief in Karma and the magic rites prescribed in Vedas by which the Brahmins kept the people( or themselves) deluded, then there was the theory of the ultimate reality preached by the Upanishads, and this was followed by the nihilistic thought stream that denied everything except acceding to bodily needs -all else to them was rubbish.
The spineless sacrifices fattened only the priestly class and brought no relief to people; the materialists on the other hand did not have any moral stance to speak of and the doctrine of the one absolute reality was too abstract to digest. In his kindness the Buddha decided to mend matters and speak to the people in the common language they understood.