Thursday, 31 March 2011

The Nature of Eternalism and Nihilism


For the proper life style the man needs independent and correct idea and ideal of life. Whenever it was not there human being falls into difficulties and wrong values devastated the peace and prosperity of human life and society. This happened in recent history when the world was emerged depending on nationalistic ideologies. They caused death to million of human beings and social difficulties to others. Such fanatic views are mostly based on self-view, emphasizing the self-supremacy.

      Eternalism and Nihilism are two extremes of religious extremism at the time of the Buddha. Both they had given wrong notions of the lifer which led people astray in religious practices.

      The first of these that the Eternalism is based on self-view. According to sensual enjoyment and feeling human beings get the notion that there is a person called ‘I’. (See no 6.2.1. The Analysis of Five Aggregates)  In the same way Nihilism is again generated to references to sensual enjoyment of sense faculties and establishing the view as body itself is the soul. In the Nihilism it is accepted that body and soul are the same. In the Brahmajalasuta of DN this is called ‘dehAtmavAda.

     îdha bhikkhave ekacco samaNo vA brahmaNovA evaM vAdI hoti, evaM diTThi yato kho bho ayaM attA nApi cAtummahAbhUtiko mAtApettikasambhavo kAyassabheda ucchijjanti vinassanti. Na hoti parammaraNA ettAvatA kho bho ayaM attA samucchinno hoti. Itteke sattassa ucchedaM vinAsaM vibhavaM

= Here, O monks! Some recluses and Brahmins hold this theory, this view. From which O friends! The soul is formed, made of four great elements, born of parents and annihilate and perish after the breaking of body, and it is not there after death. With this O friends! This soul is annihilated. Thus some show the annihilation perishing and not being of the being.

     There are some other form of Annahilatism which derived from absorptions with the development of mind and attainment, the higher knowledge of seeing the birth and death of beings (cutUpapAtaJANa) and some of them were able to absorb limited numbers of births and deaths of mental development.

      Eternalism on the other hand was holding the view that soul is different from the body (aJJaM jIvaM aJJaM sarIraM). What they meant was the existence of the body was temporary while that of soul was eternal. The religion with creation theory falls into the category for they maintain the birth of soul to the creator and liberation of soul to the same.

      Again, due higher knowledge, Eternalist theory has been stressed to have convinced in religious practice. Due to higher knowledge of remembering former births sassatavAda was convinced by the some practitioners with this knowledge they could see certain number of past lives of their own. Some could see a few and other a many. Thereby there were different forms of Eternalism. The Brahmajalasutta presents such four theories of Eternalism, three of them based on remembering past births and the last on knowledge and logic.

      So far what we considered above these views was their origin. We also should pay our attentions to the results of those views. Both these above vies are depending on the belief of soul in one way or other. The Eternalist is unable to see soullessness as everything is free from soul (sabbe dhammA anattA). The Nihilist on the other hand does not accept the continuity of existences. Therefore he is unable to think of further spiritual development.

      To have free from these extremes is to be directed to yathAbhUtaJANa. There the wise person sees that the things are free from soul and still there is continuity of existence depending on causality. He can see the truth as it is for he is free from extremes.

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