Thursday, 31 March 2011

Pessimism as Rejected by Buddhism


Buddhism is declared with the sole purpose of revealing the path of liberation. For this purpose two extremes are recommended to be avoided from. For the given up of indulgence into sensual pleasure (kAsukhalikAnuyoga), the development of loathsomeness of things (asubha saJJA) is recommended.

      By taking this fact into consideration some western scholar identified Buddhist thought as a system of pessimistic outlook, which recommended to see the bad side of life.  In opposite there is optimism which considered that everything is good. In the light of Buddhist teachings none of them are factual with related to the reality of life. The best example on this regard from the teaching of the Buddha is the µahAlisutta of SN which particularly says that neither of these extremes is correct.

      ®UpaJcahidaM µahAli ekanta dukkhaM abhavissa dukkhAnupaTitaM dukkhAvakkhantaM anavakkhantaM sukhena nayIdaM sattA rUpasmiM sArajjeyyaM. rUpaJcahidaM µahAli ekanta sukhaM abhavissa sukhAnupaTitaM sukhAvakkhantaM anavakkhantaM dukkhena nayIdaM sattA rUpasmiM nibbindeyyaM

=O µahAli! Indeed the form is nit entirely suffering, fallen into suffering, covered with suffering, and devoid of happiness (if it was so), this being would not have delighted in the form. O µahAli! This form is not entirely happy, fallen into happiness, covered with happiness, and devoid of suffering (if it was so) this being would have delighted in this form.

      The Buddha establishes same truth with regard to the other aggregates namely feeling (vedana), perception (saJJA), formation (saMkhAra) and consciousness (viJJAna).

      From the advice to µahAli it is clear that Buddhism is free from both pessimism and optimism view points.

      Recommending the path out of suffering, budhism teaches the road to highest happiness (nibbAna paramaM sukhaM). The åriyapariyesanasutta of MN reveals that the three factors are to be realized with related to the life to see the reality. The åssAdapariyesanasutta of SN reiterates the same doctrine as follows.
CakkhussAhaM bhikkhave assAda pariyesanaM acariM, yo cakkhussa assAdo tadajjagamaM yAvatA cakkhussa assAdo AdInaM nissaranaM paJJAya me sudiTThaM

=O monks! I wandered searching the enjoyment of eye, and then the enjoyment of eye was understood. So long the enjoyment of eye, non-enjoyment … and freedom were well seen by me with wisdom.

      Buddhism looks for higher form or forms of happiness as explained in the Bahuvedaniyasutta of MN. It explains that the gradual attainment of happiness through absorptions, to be higher than all the worldly happiness. The happiness achieved by attaining the second absorption is higher than the happiness derived from the first trance. The sutta explains in this way up to the ninth absorptions of which the succeeding one is happier and more supreme than the one preceding.

      “îdhAnanda bhikkhu sabbbaso nevasaJJAnasaJJAyatanam samatikkamma upasampajja viharati. Idam kho Ānanda etaramhA sukhA Ajjam sukham abhikkhantataranca paNItaraJca.”

=O Ānanda! Here the monk attains the absorption of eradicating perception and feelings, surpassing the absorption of non-perception or no non-perception. This O Ānanda! From one happiness the other is surpassing and more pleasant.

      In this way Buddhism leads its followers from one to the other happiness which is more higher and pleasant. At the end of this sutta, a very significant statement is made.

      “ña kho Avuso bhagavA sukhaM yeva vedanaM sandhAya sukhasmiM paJJApeti. api ca Avuso yattha yatthA sukhaM upalabbhati yahiM yahiM taM taM TathAgato sukhasmiM paJJApeti.
=O friends! The Buddha does not show the happiness for the sake of happy feeling. Even though o friends whatever happiness is found those places are shown as happy.”

      At the end of Bahuvedaniyasutta the Buddha discusses with ven. Ānanda about a possible question from the religious beliefs. They might question if the Buddha shows a state where perceptions and feelings are in active as a happy experience. How do they know it without feeling? The Buddha advised Ānanda to response them as in the above way.

      The ñibbbanasukhasukhasutta of AN records a conversation among monks on happiness of nibbAna. In proceeding to monks Ven. ßAriputta says, ßAriputta - sukhamidaM Avuso nibbAnamM sukhamidaM Avuso nibbAnaM.” (O friends! the nibbAna is happy, this nibbAna is happy.)
When üdAyi who was in the gathering questioned this
üdAyi - kiM panettha Avuso ßAriputta sukhaM  yedattha natthi vedayitaM. (O friend! Sariputta is there a happiness in which there is no feeling).
ßAriputta - etadeva kho ettha Avuso sukhaM yadettha natthi vedayitaM
(O friend! Indeed there is happiness where there is no feeling)

      These facts clearly show that Buddhism is not a form of pessimism in strict sense of the term. It shows the path out of suffering and leading to eternal happiness. In that way, somebody else could interprets the teachings of the Buddha as a form of optimism, for it leads the humanity for a form of eternal happiness.  

      Yet, there is another factor which did not grow the attention of European critics on Buddhism. The Buddhist is going to lead the samsaric life so long he attains the final liberation. Even the person who attains the first stage of stream-entry (sotapanna) is destined to be born seven times. Therefore he is called sattakkhatheparama (the person who is going to be born seven times only). During those seven lives he would be a samsaric being.

      The Buddhist social stratification classifies the entire society into four portions on an ethical basis. Accordingly, the four groups; bhikkhu, bhikkhunI, upasaka and upasikA make up the Buddhist society. This classification shows that a big majority of Buddhist society comprises with the large community. What Buddhism says on their worldly happiness, their living as householders are yet to be explored. Considering those Buddhists as noble disciples (ariya sAvaka), the Buddha has given many advices to organize their lay life in such a way, that they achieve highest worldly happiness by righteous means within the limit of righteousness.

îdha gahapati, ariyasAvako uTTHAna viriyAdhigatehi bhogehi dhammikehi dhammaladdhehi attAnaM sukheti pINeti, sammA sukhaM pariharati.
                                                                                  (Pattakammasutta, AN II)
=Here, O householder! The noble disciple makes himself happy and enjoyable with the wealth obtained by courageous effort, by righteous means, with the things rightly obtained; (he) lives with happiness well.

      According to this citation, Buddhist teachings recommend three qualities to be followed in earning wealth.
1.   by courageous effort
2.   by looking for money by righteous means
3.   by obtaining money through righteous ways
Next, in the ®asiyasutta of SN, says how a noble disciple should spend the correctly earned wealth.

“… dhammena bhoge pariyesitvA asahAsena attAnaM sukhati, pINeti, samvibhajati, puJJAni ca karoti. te ca bhoge agathito amucchito anajjhApanno adInavadanAvI nissarana paJJo paribhuJjati.

=Having searched well by righteous means and harmless ways, he makes himself happy and enjoyable; divides (as suitable) and does meritorious deeds. Not being strongly attached, mad or stings in that wealth, he uses them seeing ill-sequences and (the good of) freedom from it.”

      Here the Buddha highlights a set of very important external and psychological principle to be followed in spending the earned wealth.
The external principles are:
1.   Making oneself happy and enjoyable
2.   Dividing and distributing money in most suitable ways
3.   Performing meritorious deeds to make the future life happy
The internal principles are:
1.   Not making oneself too much attached to money
2.   Not making oneself mad or can not be controlled with money
3.   Not being too stingy
4.   Seeing the bad results of money as well
5.   Seeing the good of freedom fro wealth.

We can summarize the idea of the Buddha that he wants his followers to be mindful and ethical in earning and spending money. The few quotations given above clear the fact that Buddhism does not highlight the bad side of life, but it advices for happiness within righteous means.

       The µigasalasutta of AN contains a record of person’s life who attained the stage of Once-returner (sakadagAmi) and still led a happy as lay man.
îsidatto abrahmacArI ahosi sadArasanduTTho (Isidatta was not a celibate and was happy with his family).

      According to Buddhism one can enjoy worldly happiness even when he is a higher stages of spiritual advancement.
      Therefore, Buddhism is not a system of thought which advocates pessimism or optimism but it is realistic.

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