Enlightenment: A different view

I read with interest and concern, the article in your Satmag section (29th September) by Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana, entitled "Enlightenment: Of that intellectual dual between two professors".

Dr. UW begins by refereeing to the debate between Prof. Carlo Fonseka (who supports modern science and its method of critical doubt), and Prof. Nalin de Silva (who rejects science and mathematics as unmitigated ‘western’ fallacies rooted in Judeo-Christian belief, but accepts revealed `truths’ from God Naka). Then Dr. UW goes on to discuss a talk he gave at the London Buddhist Vihara on `Buddhism and Science’. Dr. UW mentions the questions he fielded and says, "I well remember the final question, `Can one be a good Buddhist without going to the temple?’ My emphatic answer was `yes’ but I could see the unappreciative look on the face of the Mahanayake Thera, who presided over the event.

Then Dr. UW comes to the question of `rebirth’ and says `At times, I have been told I cannot be a ‘Buddhist’ if I do not believe in rebirth. Fortunately, I can silence my critics by quoting ‘Kalama Sutta’, the relevant paragraphs of which conclude Carlo’s excellent article’.

If Dr. UW were to re-read the Kaalama sutta, he will find that indeed the Buddha fully encouraged independent thinking and rejected the authority of revealed truth etc.

However, the Buddha said that the independent thinker must also consult the opinion of his peers in arriving at a decision. The Sangha are the `peers’ when it comes to the Dhamma.   This is why the Buddha, as well as Buddhists, knows that we need the `refuge of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha’. Thus it is clear that you cannot take refuge in the Sangha if you `never’ go to a Temple - here I mean any place where there is a monk, even if that be a solitary cabin or cave in a forest. Hence I am concerned that Dr. UW is quoting the Kaalama Sutta misleadingly if he thinks that he doesn’t need the Sangha.

As for `rebirth’, if it was such an important concept to Buddhists, you may ask why it was not included in the Four Noble Truths, or explicitly stated in the early sermons of the Buddha. In fact, the Pali words used in those sermons have been translated as understood by various people by involuntarily introducing their own beliefs into them. If you look at the first sermon, it talks of Gods and Brahma at the end; different versions differ. But if you look at the initial part (common to most  versions), you see that the Buddha is talking of the cause of pain (Dhukka), and desire (Thanha), and when He says "yaayam thanha punobhavika", thanha  is the noun qualified by  "punobhavika. So, when He says

" ayam anthima jatha  natthi daani punabbbavo"  the Buddha is referring to the end of the birth of  "Thanha" - cessation of desire, and not life itself. This interpretation is the only one consistent with what came before in the first sermon, the second sermon of the Buddha and the doctrine of Anatta.  I have discussed this issue in some detail in my blog

The doctrine of Annatta insists that there is no identifiable individual. Instead, there is a sequence of physical (`naama’) and mental states (`roopa’) that die, and get reborn

 due to the working of `Thanha’. Thus the rebirth-death-rebirth cycle refers to this sequence of naama-roopa and not the rebirth after physiological death claimed by `Hanamiti Buddhists’ - i.e., those who hold onto their received beliefs, come what may. I am sure Dr. UW would have little difficulty in the concept of rebirth as stated that way. He needs to read the sermons in Pali and reflect on them and their translation with the help of learned Pali scholars, or their writings, and follow the Kaalama sutta, keeping a very open mind. So Dr. UW needs to go to the temple, discourse with monks, and learn Pali - the language of the Buddha.

Bodhi Dhanapala


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