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The Concept of
Personality Revealed Through The Pancanikaya - Ven. Thich Chon-Thien
Institute of Buddhist Studies
II.2 Chapter 2
In the Light of Dependent Origination
The problems often discussed in a culture are the outlook on life and universe, individual questions, environment and values. These problems play their role in determining the course of development of culture. They are going to be reviewed in this chapter in the light of Dependent Origination.
II.2.1: THE OUTLOOK ON LIFE AND UNIVERSE
Examining the origin or nature of life and universe is the main task of the sphere of metaphysics. This problem has a very important position in philosophy. It was examined from the dawn of Egyptian, Indian and Chinese thought. This is the searching for the essence of existing things relating to the problem of eternity and non - eternity, self and non - self, reality and annihilation, creator and creations, etc.
Lord Buddha Gotama, who Himself realized the Noble Truth, considered all metaphysical questions empty. He often kept silent and gave no answers to such metaphysical questions, because for Him, those questions do not realistically relate to the purpose a monk should aim at - that is the final freedom. This experimental attitude of His mind is mentioned in many discourses of the Pancanikāya. However, on the authors way to study universe and human beings, some philosophical problems relating to spirituality and materiality are necessary tobe discussed.
When a man is examining universe, he is with it in the here - and- now. How can he know what the universe really is when he cannot understand who he really is? So, the practical thing for him is turning back to himself and seeing where and who he is so that he can come to the destruction of all hindrances to the truth of things. In doing this, he is to follow a practical method of phenomenology, and experimental method of mind by Lord Buddha.
For materiality, Lord Buddha declared that the material world is formed by the Four Great Elements as many Indian thinkers before Him did: they are Earth element, Water element, Fire element and Air element. These elements are dynamic and impermanent, so all existing things compounded by them must be impermanent. The question about the originof them is unacceptable to the truth of Dependent Origination as discovered by Lord Buddha; it becomes senseless.
According to Dependent Origination, this pheno menal world is conditioned, selfless and empty; human beings are but the compound of the five aggregates (pancakkhandha) which are selfless and empty; both the world and men co - exist, but cannot separate from each other. This truth was proved again by Lord Buddhas teaching recorded in the discourse of Mahāpunnama (Majjhimanikāya,Vol.III) and of Dhātuvibhanga (Majjhimanikāya, Vol. III): Form aggregate among the five aggregates compounding a manincludes an inside part which is his physical body, and an outside part which is the physical world; this means the universe itself is a part of a mans body.
Since mens thought is limited by self - thought and by the limit of mens sense organs, it cannot set its feet on the true world of things, so people may ask: does this universe exist as what human beings perceive? or, does it exist independently from what human beings perceive?
In response to the above questions, the realists claim the universe appears exactly as what human beings perceive; the Western idealists supposed men can know only the world perceived by their sense organs, but can never know the world itself, as Platon did; Immanuel Kant is a rationalist but he accepted that idealist point of view. Although there are various regards to things, Western philosophers and educators believe that there is an objective world independent from human beings that can never be known. This means to the author the root difference between Lord Buddhas teaching and other schools of thought, and gives him a hope to find solutions for the crises caused by the self - thought way.
Once, in the discourse of Pātigamiya (Khuddakanikāya), Lord Buddha Gotama mentioned the unconditioned world (asankhāra) as the world existing out of the sphere of going and coming, birth and death etc., and declared that is the world of the destruction of suffering, or of attachment to things. This proves that the world people see and know is that of attachment or of inversions (mental, perceptual, emotional inversion andinversion of view) which is derived from ignorance (avijjā).
The true world is therefore this phenomenal world without mens attachment to things. Lord Buddha affirmed:
The above teaching also reveals Lord Buddhaseducational point of view which is: educating men means helping them culivate their mind for the deliverance from all troubles and defilements. When their mind is pure, they will immediately see the purity of the world (or the true world): Happiness and truth appear at the same time to them. It is not training them according to any theory of personality, or any pattern of education. It is not either the searching for the origin of life or universe.
Then another question may be asked: spirituality comes after materiality, or materiality comes after spirituality? - This is a problem of philosophy.
As mentioned before, mans thinking operates on the basis of self - concept. Without self - concept, it cannot function. It is self - concept which makes up the concept of order of things, then the concept of "before", "after" or "the first cause". Reality itself has nothing to do with that self - concept. It always says that materiality or spirituality is conditioned as the doctrine of Dependent Origination does. If form aggregate cannot separate from other aggregates, materiality cannot either separate from spirituality: both co - exist. However, because of the emphasis of cultivating mans mind, Lord Buddha declared:
Men should be sure that thought (or mind) mentioned in the above teachings is conditioned, even the Tibhava, or three Worlds, they are conditioned; and all conditioned things, as materiality and spirituality, are selfless and therefore empty. Only problem of suffering of man and its cessation, but not speculations, was considered seriously by Lord Buddha on His way of teaching.
Knowledge is another important matter to be reviewed. It relates to existing things and is so close to a man that he considers it something of his self. What is it? A knowledge of the outer world is but a synthesis of the sources of information given by sense - organs. But sense - organs are not believable information givers. For example, when a man puts his left hand in a basin of cold water, his right hand in a basin of pretty hot water; then right after that he puts both hands in a basin of warm water; his hands do not give him the same feeling. This is an error. It is the same for other sense organs. The above synthesis is done by the mans thinking based on self -thought, so it is something of ignorance. Therefore, knowledge must not belong to the true self of the man, or to the true world. In the light of Dependent Origination, it leads men just to suffering; it really is not what human beings are expecting.
A system of education, which as almost all systems of education of today world only offers men knowledges, will not bring happiness to them. It should be adjusted as early as possible.
In addition to the above clarification, the doctrine of Dependent Origination, to the authors knowledge, can suggest new regards to the problems of individuals, society and environment that will be studied next.
II.2.2. DEPENDENT ORIGINATION AND INDIVIDUAL PROBLEMS
The big problems of a modern society with which leaders, educators and thinkers are concerned are individuals, individuals and society, history and environment, because these things have a very close relationship to individual happiness and survival; they seem to exist as a part of human existence, therefore they deserve to be observed under the light of truth- Dependent Origination.
Individuals and happiness:
It is very evident that everybody is born to be happybut not suffering, to serve his practical purpose of happiness but not any other purpose that does not relate intimately to it. It is also very evident that one is searching for truth of life because of his peace of mind in the here and now. So, the main object of education and culture must be individuals, and the root aim of education and culture must be happiness of individuals.
From the very old days, human beings gathered together in groups called tribes for their survival for the improvement of their life, and for the coping suitably with weather, environmental conditions and nature. It is these things which made up what is called society, culture and civilization. Since life stream was flowing from change to change, human beings efforts to build up their happiness and society must have changed from generation to generation accordingly. Then individuals came to work for two inseparable purposes: one for individuals, one for their group or society. When these two purposes did not work, individual problems arose and needed solutions. However, peoples regards to individuals, society and happiness are different from each other. This made the problems become more and more complicated, and the searching for solutions became the reason for religions and schools of thought to come into existence and to be developed. Let us follow the typical regards to them from great spheres of culture all over the world.
P.T. Raju, in the work titled "The concept of Man" edited by him and S.Radhakrishnan, gave the following comments:
For Greek thoughts :
For Chinese thoughts:
For Indian thoughts, they seem to be the most interesting of the world as mentioned in (I.2.)
For Marxist thought, P.T. Raju estimated:
In the authors opinion, Greek thoughts belong to dualism supposing that every existing has its own nature, regardless of the point of view considering individual and society interdependent or not. So, they must belong to the operation of ignorance (avijja) which actually leads to suffering.
Chinese thoughts emphasize individuals as virtuous men living in the order of a society well - organized. They are but the production of self - thought, not of reality itself. These thoughts must bring troubles to individuals as people could see in the history of China: many tragical contradictions among human relationships happened.
Generally, to human beings point of views, Lord Buddha Gotama gave the following estimate:
With His perfection of wisdom, Lord Buddha did know and see the truth of this Universe, then explained the formation of this earth and human beings society that may be summarized as below: (12)
So, right after this Earth was formed, the first beings from Ābhassara heaven appeared without need for food. Then the sweet taste of earth and rice attracted them and made desire for things arise and grow up in them. After that, sex organs appeared together with desire for sexuality. When their desire grew up, social needs existed requiring social organization: human society was formed then, and social classes came into existence according to beings conduct: society was for the response to the individuals requirements only. This is the first and last role of society. This is the reason why Lord Buddha concerned only about suffering of individuals in this life, and their deeds for their happiness. He therefore taught:
Society should do nothing but help individuals resolve their problems by their own deeds. Culture and tradition which are belongings of a society should do the same thing. This is the most traditional meaning of the role of society, culture or tradition. And the most original or traditional meaning of individuals purpose of life may be, at least as it happened in the beginning of this world, a peaceful mind of self - delight.
The world of today appears as a whole society very great with so many problems to be resolved relating to languages, political systems, customs, ways of life, religions, beliefs, race, sex, ..., and environment. All these things which put a lot of strong influences on men are existing as a very rough ocean sinking a boat of individuals. In those conditions of life, individuals feel so strange to themselves that they are surprisingly asking about their origin while they actually are there, and the truth of life is there. Because of this, Lord Buddha, who did know and see the past and future of this universe, declared:
Indeed, when this culture cannot help individuals be themselves and cannot bring them happiness, human beings will not have any choice other than accepting the fateful suffering as they are, if its course of operation is not changed. A phenomenon, as the evident result of the current culture, happening is the grave pollution of environment which may cause disaster on Earth. There must be something wrong in mens course of thought and action that needs to be adjusted for the protection of environment from pollution. This is the subject of hot discussion of our time that the author is going to mention in (II.2.3.). In his opinion, without understanding the close relationship between man and nature, people cannot understand what a man really is; without protecting environment from pollution as protecting mens life from suffering, human beings will come to their ruin.
II.2.3. INDIVIDUALS AND ENVIRONMENT
What is environment? What is pollution of environment? Let us start examining it now.
Environment is a new term of nature. A new study branch on environment of the modern time is called ecology.
Some concepts of ecology:
Ecology is relatively a new science dealing withvarious principles which govern the relationships between organisms and their environment. American ecologist Frederick Clements (1916) considered ecology to be "the science of the community"; British ecologist Charles Elton (1927) defined ecology as "scientific natural history" concerned with the "sociology and economics of animals"; Woodbury (1954) treated ecology as "a science which investigates organisms in relation to their environment, and a philosophy in which the world of life is interpreted in terms of natural processes". Krebs (1972) defined it as "the scientific approach to the study of environmental interactions which control the welfare of living things, regulating their distribution, abundance, reproduction and evolution".
P.D. Sharma (F.N.I.E.) (Department of Botany, Univ. of Delhi) wrote in his book titled "Ecology and Environment" that:
P.D. Sharma introduced many basic concepts of ecology, in this part the author only quotes sometypical ones:
The above three quotations prove that there is a live relationship between men and environment which iscontinuous, inseparabable and natural. This very close relationship says that violating environment means violating individuals life as people could see from the current environmental crisis.
The current environmental crisis is enviromental pollutions: air, water, earth pollutions. These pollutions as recorded in books, magazines, etc., are caused by atomic tests, chemical arms tests, by poisonous gas emitted from engineering factories, and by the fast increase of world population, etc.
The term pollution is defined by the Environmental Pollution Panel of the Presidents Science Advisory Committee in its report: "Restoring the Quality of Our Environment", held in November, 1965, as follows:
For air pollution produced in a year by human sources in the U.S.A., Edward J. Kormondy recorded (21 b)
Mentioning the problem of "Nuclear energy - Salvation or Damnation?", E.F. Schumacher, in his book titled "Small is Beautiful" wrote:
For water and earth pollution, E.F. Schumacher added:
From the above quotations, it can be imagined how dangerous the current environmental pollution is, how threatened human beings life on earth is !
This pollution must be an evident result of the modern scientific civilization with its fast and uncontrolled development of industries and economics. This civilization, in its turn, is the result of a very high development of self- thought, way of thinking and enjoying pleasures of men. So, the main causes of the great environmental crisis which is being warned are ignorance (avijjā) and craving (tanhā) of men. Here, it may be asked whether Lord Buddhas teaching on the truth of Dependent Origination (Paticcasamuppāda) can give a solution to it?
As mentioned before, the element of Name - and - Form (Nāma - Ruųpa) of the Dependent Origination is considered as the five aggregates of human beings which were defined by Lord Buddha Gotama as follows:
Twenty six centuries ago Lord Buddha did give human beings a very interesting and extremely surprising definition: the body aggregate of a man includes his physical body and this whole physical world. This definition affirms that environment or nature really is the body, or a big part of the body, of a man; without it he cannot come into exsistence and survive. If nature or environment is gravely polluted, his physical body or life will immediately come to its ruin. So, if everybody understands the truth of Dependent Origination, or if allmeans of communication of men introduce this doctrine, he will voluntarily protect environment from pollution as he can, because this is the meaning of protection of his happiness and survival in this life.
It may be said that the science of ecology and the danger of the enviromental pollution are offering human beings a vision that there is no limit of the physical body of a man: it cannot be limited to the extent of his own body, of his country or of any continent: this is the real meaning of selflessness of his body. It is similar for his other aggregates. Does this truth say the Buddhas doctrine of selflessness or Dependent Origination is the solution for the environmental crisis? - In the authors opinion, Dependent Origination may be the solution for various problems of men. Lets continue examining it.
II.2.4. INDIVIDUALS AND HUMAN VALUES
To men, living means living with knowledges and values of life. As people could understand, the role of education is imparting to men knowledges about spheres of learning, nature and human beings. These knowledges, their values and the value itself, in fact, are created by mens thinking which has been discussed about in philosophy as well as in education. What is mens thinking? What is the meaning of the current values of life? The answers to these questions are what the writer must reach in this part of his work. These are great philosophical problems.
Mentioning philosophy, P.T. Raju wrote:
Chandradhar Sharma supposed:
As the above expressions suggest, the author also thinks that the common meaning of philosophy to be concerned much about is serving human beings and their happiness in life, and that the western way of thinking is different from the Eastern way: the former emphasizes knowledges about life, the latter concerns about therealization of the truth of life. This difference will be clarified if we examine mens way of thinking, in general, expressed by Aristotle, a Greek great philosopher, as the following:
For Aristotle, there are three basic principles for mens thinking:
1. Principle of identity: A thing called (A) must always be (A). If it changes from moment to moment, mens thinking cannot operate.
2. Principle of no-contradiction: A thing called (A) may be named (A) or(<>A), but not sometimes (A), sometimes ( <>A). If it is often changed, mens thinking cannot work.
3. Principle of excluded middle: A thing may be called (A) now, and (B) at another time, but not (A +B) - half is A and half is B-.
If it is (A + B), mens thinking can never function. (28)
Those principles presuppose that every existing thing has a fixed nature, while in life it changes from moment to moment. This is a big gap between mens knowledges about life and life itself that can never be filled up.
It is the above way of thinking which puts value on all things. Having no root in reality, these values only make men confused in making any choice between conventional values and the real life, and only brings them tragedies.
Having seen this wrong view and thought, Lord Buddha taught the doctrine of Dependent Originationshowing that mens thinking is Activities element (sankhāra), or Activities aggregate of the five aggregates of Name- and - Form element (Nāma - Rųpa), which is of the operation of Ignorance (avijja) leading to suffering. So the true values of things exist only in the operation of wisdom (vijjā or pannā) or mens regard of wisdom.
It is the above thinking which forces men to search for the first cause of life and the nature of man (or personality) which never exist in life as well as the conventional values.
In the authors opinion any search for personality or any search for the essence of things is but a utopia. This problem will be discussed much more in the next part.
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