Saturday, 26 March 2011

Buddhist Theory of Knowledge (Epistemology)


Theory of knowledge or epistemology means the way of acquiring knowledge as recommended by a particular religion. All the religions in the world teach their own unique principles of highest truth and the way of receiving that knowledge. Those unique informations that are related to the ways of achieving that knowledge are discussed under epistemology.

Although a religion reveals the truth of their own in a new way if it doesn’t recommend the path of getting that knowledge there would be no a basis or foundation of that truth. If that truth has the way of acquiring thought clearly then that is trust-worthy.

In understanding the Buddhist theory of knowledge it is important to get some knowledge about the contemporary other theories of knowledge.

Human beings are used to accept different information as truth according to the way his society does that. More than accepting as it is done by others the average men would not think of proper or correct way of getting knowledge. Buddhism on the hand mentions its truth as well as ways of getting the highest knowledge with equal importance because they both are important to get a proper understanding of reality.
The theories of knowledge in Buddha’s time are divided into three main groups. This classification for the first time was given by Professor K.N. Jayatillake in his well known work named ‘Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge’.

Sutamaya paññā
Cintamaya paññā
Bhāvanamaya paññā

Traditionalists are those thinkers who depend on tradition or inherited knowledge by ancestors for knowledge. Brahmins who accepted the authority of Veda for highest truth, did not have any other way of acquiring of knowledge than Vedic literature and their commentaries. Rationalists means materialists, such view holders in Upanishads, skeptics (saMsayavAdī), materialists among Ājivakas and they depended on logical arguments and inference (anumAna). Experientialists mean the latest thinkers among contemporary religious thinkers in the Buddha’s time. Some üpaniSadic sages, some Ājivakas, Jains and Buddhists who depended on personal knowledge and self-understanding, experience and also extra sensory perception (atIndriyapartyakSa). 
To understand to which category of these the Buddha belongs to we can examine some canonical passages, which make the idea clear. In the ßandakasutta of MN II, there is an analysis of these three groups and Buddhist response towards them. The traditionalists are named here as ånussAvika. They are those thinkers who received knowledge from hearsay or traditional teachers or texts therefore, they emphasize of heard knowledge (sutamayaJANa) as the best knowledge and the best way of getting knowledge. The most heard man (bahussuto) is the best-educated man according to this category. The Buddha in the above sutta says that sutamayaJAna is not the proper knowledge and it is not the only way to get correct knowledge. The Buddha’s argument depends on four factors.

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