The Dhamma: Is it a philosophy?
moral and philosophical system expounded by the Buddha, which demands
no blind faith from its adherents, expounds no dogmatic creeds, encourages
no superstitious rites and ceremonies, but advocates a golden mean
that guides a disciple through pure living and pure thinking to the
gain of supreme wisdom and deliverance from all evil, is called the
Dhamma and is popularly known as Buddhism.
The all-merciful Buddha has passed away, but the sublime Dhamma which he unreservedly bequeathed to humanity, still exists in its pristine purity.
Although the master
has left no written records of his teachings, his distinguished disciples
preserved them by committing to memory and transmitting them orally
from generation to generation.
500 chief arahats versed in the Dhamma
and Vinaya, held a convocation to
rehearse the Doctrine as was originally taught by the Buddha. Venerable
Ananda Thera, who enjoyed the special privilege of hearing all the
discourses, recited the Dhamma, while the Venerable Upali recited
The Tipitaka was
compiled and arranged in its present form by those arahats of old.
During the reign
of the pious Sinhala king Vattagamani Abhaya, about 83 B.C., the Tipitaka
was, for the first time in the history of Buddhism, committed to writing
on palm leaves (ola) in Ceylon.
Tipitaka, which contains the essence of the Buddha's Teaching, is
estimated to be about eleven times the size of the Bible. A striking
contrast between the Tipitaka and the Bible is that the former is
not a gradual development like the latter.
As the word itself
implies, the Tipitaka consists of three baskets. They are the Basket
of Discipline (Vinaya Pitaka), the Basket of Discourses (Sutta
Pitaka), and the Basket of Ultimate Doctrine (Abhidhamma Pitaka).
The Vinaya Pitaka
which is regarded as the sheet anchor to the oldest historic celibate
order -- the Sangha -- mainly deals with rules and regulations which
the Buddha promulgated, as occasion arose, for the future discipline
of the Order of monks (Bhikkhus) and nuns (Bhikkunis). It described
in detail the gradual development of the Sasana (Dispensation). An
account of the life and ministry of the Buddha is also given. Indirectly
it reveals some important and interesting information about ancient
history, Indian customs, arts, science, etc.
The Vinaya Pitaka
consists of the five following books:
The Sutta Pitaka consists chiefly of discourses, delivered by the Buddha himself on various occasions. There are also a few discourses delivered by some of his distinguished disciples such as the Venerable Sariputta, Ananda, Moggallana, etc., included in it. It is like a book of prescriptions, as the sermons embodied therein were expounded to suit the different occasions and the temperaments of various persons. There may be seemingly contradictory statements, but they should not be misconstrued as they were opportunely uttered by the Buddha to suit a particular purpose: for instance, to the self-same question he would maintain silence (when the inquirer is merely foolishly inquisitive), or give a detailed reply when he knew the inquirer to be an earnest seeker. Most of the sermons were intended mainly for the benefit of bhikkhus and they deal with the holy life and with the expositions of the doctrine. There are also several other discourses which deal with both the material and moral progress of his lay followers.
This Pitaka is
divided into five Nikayas or collections, viz:
The fifth is subdivided
into fifteen books:
In the Sutta Pitaka
is found the conventional teaching (vohara desana) while in
the Abhidhamma Pitaka is found the ultimate teaching (paramattha-desana).
To the wise, Abhidhamma
is an indispensable guide; to the spiritually evolved, an intellectual
treat; and to research scholars, food for thought. Consciousness is
defined. Thoughts are analyzed and classified chiefly from an ethical
standpoint. Mental states are enumerated. The composition of each
type of consciousness is set forth in detail. How thoughts arise,
is minutely described. Irrelevant problems that interest mankind but
having no relation to one's purification, are deliberately set aside.
Matter is summarily
discussed; fundamental units of matter, properties of matter, sources
of matter, relationship between mind and matter, are explained.
investigates mind and matter, the two composite factors of the so-called
being, to help the understanding of things as they truly are, and
a philosophy has been developed on those lines. Based on that philosophy,
an ethical system has been evolved, to realize the ultimate goal,
Pitaka consists of seven books:
In the Tipitaka
one finds milk for the babe and meat for the strong, for the Buddha
taught his doctrine both to the masses and to the intelligentsia.
The sublime Dhamma enshrined in these sacred texts, deals with truths
and facts, and is not concerned with theories and philosophies which
may be accepted as profound truths today only to be thrown overboard
tomorrow. The Buddha has presented us with no new astounding philosophical
theories, nor did he venture to create any new material science. He
explained to us what is within and without so far as it concerns our
emancipation, as ultimately expounded a path of deliverance, which
is unique. Incidentally, he has, however, forestalled many a modern
scientist and philosopher.
his "World as Will and Idea" has presented the truth of
suffering and its cause in a Western garb. Spinoza, though he denies
not the existence of a permanent reality, asserts that all phenomenal
existence is transitory. In his opinion sorrow is conquered "by
finding an object of knowledge which is not transient, not ephemeral,
but is immutable, permanent, everlasting." Berkeley proved that
the so-called indivisible atom is a metaphysical fiction. Hume, after
a relentless analysis of the mind, concluded that consciousness consists
of fleeting mental states. Bergson advocates the doctrine of change.
Prof. James refers to a stream of consciousness.
The Buddha expounded
these doctrines of transiency, (anicca), sorrow (dukkha),
and no-soul (anatta) some 2500 years ago while he was sojourning
in the valley of the Ganges.
It should be understood
that the Buddha did not preach all that he knew. On one occasion while
the Buddha was passing through a forest he took a handful of leaves
and said: "O bhikkhus, what I have taught is comparable to the
leaves in my hand. What I have not taught is comparable to the amount
of leaves in the forest."
He taught what
he deemed was absolutely essential for one's purification making no
distinction between an esoteric and exoteric doctrine. He was characteristically
silent on questions irrelevant to his noble mission.
Buddhism no doubt
accords with science, but both should be treated as parallel teachings,
since one deals mainly with material truths while the other confines
itself to moral and spiritual truths. The subject matter of each is
The Dhamma he
taught is not merely to be preserved in books, nor is it a subject
to be studied from an historical or literary standpoint. On the contrary
it is to be learnt and put into practice in the course of one's daily
life, for without practice one cannot appreciate the truth. The Dhamma
is to be studied, and more to be practiced, and above all to be realized;
immediate realization is its ultimate goal. As such the Dhamma is
compared to a raft which is meant for the sole purpose of escaping
from the ocean of birth and death (samsara).
cannot strictly be called a mere philosophy because it is not merely
the "love of, inducing the search after, wisdom." Buddhism
may approximate a philosophy, but it is very much more comprehensive.
mainly with knowledge and is not concerned with practice; whereas
Buddhism lays special emphasis on practice and realization.