Sarva Darshana Sangraha

by Madhava Vidyaranya,

Chief Of Sringeri Math and Author Of Panchadasi

14th Century AD.

A compendium of all thought and 16 belief – systems that men have lived with over extended period,

that they chose over others for obtaining a life and values perspective to guide themselves through …

Chapter II : The Buddhist Belief System

A Greco-Buddhist statue, one of the first repr...

Puranas, the traditional record of dynasties and kings place the great Buddha about 18th Century BC, a time of great chaos and uprootedness, just after the River Sarasvati had dried up and life was displaced from its settled origins in its valley in present day Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana. People moved North into Punjab and towards East along the the course of rivers Ganga and Jamuna. 

These eastern regions in Kosala and Magadha were already populated

and the massive migrations from the West led to much social conflict and churn through survival pressures, power quests and aspirations to affluence. It was a melting pot of gigantic proportions, which threw up several alternate life-views while people picked up their lives with severe ethical and moral questions on the social and personal perspectives they all had largely subscribed to before, through the millennium after the Kurukshetra War that had laid to waste millions of lives and ushered in a new world order. The drying up of the River Sarasvati was no less catastrophic, concomitant as it was with a number of frequent famine cycles.

In those interesting times, the Buddha’s way was a great call for moderation. It was universally heard, appreciated and adopted, though expectedly life throw up the extreme alternates as well. Charvaka’s materialist atheism was one of them.

Buddhists observe : The reasons you (Charvakas) lay down to establish the difficulty of ascertaining invariable concomitance are unacceptable, inasmuch as invariable concomitance is easily cognisable by means of identity and causality. It has accordingly been said : ” From the relation of cause and effect, or from identity as a determinant, results a (specific) law of invariable concomitance … not through mere observation of the desired result in (other) similar cases, nor through the non-observation of it in (other) dissimilar cases.” 

On the hypothesis (of the “logician” Naiyayikas) that it is concomitance and non-concomitance, say, A is where B is and A is not where B is not, which determines an invariable (cause and effect) connection, but that the unconditional ( or unconditioned) attendance of the major or the middle term is unascertainable in all instances, it being impossible to exclude all doubt with regard to instances in past and future and present but unperceived … an inadequacy that also affects the Buddhist system … the latter says, “Not so, for such a supposition as that an effect may be produced without any cause would destroy itself by putting a stop to activity of any kind; for such doubts alone are to be entertained that do not implicate us in practical absurdity; as it has been said : Doubt terminates where there is a practical absurdity.“

And, if a man does not allow inference as a form of evidence, pramana, one may reply, “You merely assert thus much, that inference is not a form of evidence : Do you offer no proof of this assertion, or is there one you have ? The former alternative is not allowable according to the maxim that bare assertion is no proof of the matter asserted. Nor is the latter alternative any better, for if while you assert that inference is no form of evidence, you produce some truncated argument (to prove, i.e. infer the contrary), you will be involved in an absurdity, just as if you asserted your own mother to be barren ! 

Besides, when you (logician) affirm that the establishment of a form of evidence and of the corresponding fallacious evidence results from their homogeneity, you yourself admit induction by identity. Again, when you affirm that the dissent of others is known by the symbolism of words, you yourself allow induction by causality. When you deny the existence of any object on the ground of its not being perceived, you yourself admit an inference of which non-perception is the middle term. 

Hence has the Tathagata said : The admission of a form of evidence in general results from its being present to the understanding of others. The existence of a form of evidence also follows from its negation by a certain person.

All this has been fully handled by great authorities; and we desist for fear of an undue enlargement of our essay. 

Buddhists discuss the highest end of man from four standpoints, subscribers to which are respectively categorised as Madhyamika, Yogachara, Sautrantika and Vaibhashika. The Madhyamika adopts the doctrine of universal void (nihilism); Yogachara, of an external void (subjective idealism); Sautrantika, of the inferability of external objects (representationism); and the Vaibhasika, of the perceptibility of external objects (presentationism). 

Thus the venerated Buddha, the one teacher, has disciples of four kinds, in consequence of this diversity of views; just as when one has said, “The sun has set,” the adulterer, the thief, the divinity student, and commoners understand that it is time to set about their assignations, their theft, their religious duties, household chores and so forth, according to their several inclinations.

In effect, the Buddhist belief may be simply expressed as :

  • All is momentary;

  • All is pain;

  • All is like itself alone; and

  • All is void.

The Buddhist thus drives the non-physical, non-ephemeral nature of the soul :

” What has rain and shine to do with the soul ? Their effect is on the skin of man. If the soul were like the skin, it would be non-permanent ; and if the skin were like the soul, there could be no effect produced upon it.”

Dilating on existence of beings and things, celestial bodies included, it is perceived that each of them change in part or full, without exception, in short and long term, and are replaced by another, like or unlike. They all – positive projections in existence – are hence categorised as “momentary.” And the “infinite” universal or mother existence that contain these successive momentary entities in existence is neither perceived nor is cognisable by any other valid means. Hence the universal infinite from which these entities form and into they unform, that permanence with character contrary to all these in existence, is void or non-existence. Therefore it has been said by Jnana-sri (Buddha, the knowledgeable) : 

  • What is … is momentary, as a cloud, and as these existent things.

  • The power of existence is relative to practical efficiency and belongs to the ideal, but this power exists not as eternal in things eternal (ether, etc).

  • Each entity has only one form, otherwise one thing could do the work of another.

Conformably it has been said … ” Great is the dexterity of that which, existing in one place, engages without moving from that place in producing itself in another place. This entity (universality) is not connected with that wherein it resides, and yet pervades that which occupies that place : great is this miracle. It goes not away, nor was it there, nor is it subsequently divided, it quits not its former repository : what a series of difficulties ! “ 

If you ask : On what does the assurance rest that the one exists in the many ? You must be satisfied with the reply that we concede it to repose on difference from that which is different (or exclusion of heterogeneity). We dismiss further prolixity.

That all transmigratory existence is identical with pain is the common verdict of all the founders of institutes, else they would not be found desirous to put a stop to it and engage in method for bringing it to an end. We must, therefore, bear in mind that all is pain, and pain alone. 

If you object : When it is asked, “like what ? you must quote an instance,” we reply : Not so, for momentary objects self-characterised being momentary, have no common characters, and therefore it is impossible to say that this is like that. We must therefore hold that all is like itself alone.

Objects are not determined by any one of the four alternatives. Hence it has been said …

“A religious mendicant, an amorous man, and a dog have three views of a woman s person, respectively that it is a carcass, that it is a mistress, and that it is a prey.” 

In consequence of these four points of view – Madhyamika, Yogachara, Sautrantika and Vaibhashika – when all ideas concerning any or all entities are come to end, to their final extinction, the result is a void. To be true, there is nothing more to be taught : The student has only two duties, interrogation and acceptance. Of these, interrogation is putting forth questions in order to attain knowledge not yet attained here and now. Acceptance is assent to matters enunciated by the teacher. 

Critically speaking, the nihilists on the Budhist way are excellent at assenting to that which the religious teacher enounces but defective in interrogation, whence their traditional designation of Madhyamikas (or mediocre). The “method” does not answer the question : Who is witnessing the void, and how ? If the void itself is witnessing it, then it could hardly be void proper !

Yogacharas, on the other hand, seem to realise the predicament : they accept the four points of view proclaimed by the spiritual guide and the void of external things, but question : Why has a void of the internal (or baselessness of mental phenomena) been admitted ? Their reasoning is : Self-subsistent cognition must be allowed or it will follow that the whole universe is blind.” Therefore does Dharmakirti proclaim, ” To one who disallows perception, his vision of objects is not competent (to start with).” 

Likewise, the Sautrantikas hold that the absence of external world is untenable, as wanting evidence, which the Vaibhasikas provide while admitting the perceptibility of external objects. It brings the “truth” content in Buddhist thought to a full circle !

The testimony of one’s own consciousness however is an important contribution by those Buddhists who continued their contemplation along the lines of prevailing Yoga – Sankhya studies. Sense perception occasioned by six cognitions : sound (ear), touch (skin), colour (eye), taste (tongue), smell (nose) and, in addition to traditional inclusions, pleasure (mind). The four conditions necessary to sense-perception are : data, suggestion, medium, and the dominant (organ). For instance, the form of blue is the data in our understanding, cognised upon a suggestion in our sight, through the medium if light and the dominant eye organ.

So too with the universe, our perception of which consists of mind and five kinds of its modifications : sensational, perceptional, affectional, verbal, and impressional. Of these, the sensible world is the sense organs and their objects, the perceptional world is the stream of subject-recognitions and of presentments of activity, the affectional is the stream of feelings of pleasure and pain generated by the two aforesaid worlds, the verbal (or symbolical) world is the stream of cognitions conversant about words … the words ” cow,” and so forth, and the impressional world is constituted of the miseries … as desire, aversion, etc caused by the affectional world, the lesser miseries … as conceit, pride, etc, and merit and demerit. 

Reflecting, therefore, that this universe is pain, an abode of pain, and an instrument of pain, a man should acquire a knowledge of the principles and the method of eliminating this pain. Hence it has been said, “The principles sanctioned by Buddha are, to the saint, the four methods of eliminating the aggregate of pain.” In these words the sense of pain is known to every one; the ” aggregate ” means the cause of pain. 

This aggregate is twofold, as (1) determined by concurrence or (2) determined by causation. Of these, there is an aphorism comprising the aggregate determined by concurrence, ” which other causes resort to this effect ; the condition of these causes thus proceeding is concurrence ; the concurrence of causes is the result of this only, and not of any conscious being ” … such is the meaning of the aphorism. To exemplify : A germ, caused by a seed, is generated by the concurrence of six elements. Of these, earth as an element produces hardness and smell in the germ; water as an element produces viscidity and moisture; light as an element produces colour and warmth ; air as an element produces touch and motion ; ether as an element produces expansion and sound ; the season as an element produces a fitting soil, etc. 

The aphorism comprising the aggregate determined by causation is : “With the Tathagatas, the nature of these conditions is fixed by production, or by non-production ; there is continuance as a condition, and determination by a condition, and conformity of the production to the cause ; the nature of these conditions, that is, the causal relation between the cause and effect, results from production or from non-production. That which comes into being, provided that something exists, is the effect of that as its cause ; such is the explanation of the nature (or causal relation). Continuance as a condition is where the effect is not found without its cause. Determination by a condition is the determination of the effect by the cause. 

One might interpose that the relation of cause and effect cannot exist apart from some conscious agent. For this reason it is added that there existing a cause, conformity of the genesis to that cause is the nature which is fixed in conditions (that is, in causes and effects) ; and in all this no intelligent designer is observed. 

Emancipation is the suppression of these two causal aggregates, or the rise of pure cognition subsequent to such suppression. The method (path, road) is the mode of suppressing them. This method is the knowledge of the principles. Such is the highest mystery. 

As an anecdotal instance, the name Sautrantika arose from the fact that the venerated Buddha said to certain of his disciples who asked what was the ultimate purport (anta, end) of the aphorism (stitra), “As you have in quired the final purport of the aphorism, be Sautrantikas.” Thus did the name come to be.

It should not be contended that a diversity of instruction according to the disciples modes of thought is not traditional (or orthodox) ; for it is said in the gloss on the Bodha-chitta :

” The instructions of the leader of mankind (Buddha), accommodating themselves to the character and disposition (of those who are to be taught), are said to be diverse in many ways, according to a plurality of methods. For as deep or superficial, and sometimes both deep and superficial, these instructions are diverse, and diverse is the doctrine of a universal void which is a negation of duality.”

It is well known in Buddhist doctrine that the worship of the twelve inner seats (dyatana) is conducive to felicity.

” After acquiring wealth in abundance, the twelve inner seats are to be thoroughly reverenced ; what use of reverencing aught else below ? The five organs of knowledge, the five organs of action, the common sensory and the intellect have been described by the wise as the twelve inner seats.”

The system of the Buddhists is described as follows in the Viveka-vilasa :

” Of the Bauddhas, Sugata (Buddha) is the deity, and the universe is momentarily fluxional ; The following four principles in order are to be known by the name of the noble truths : Pain, the inner seats, and from them an aggregate is held, and the path (method). Of all this, let the explication be heard in order… 

Pain, and the features of the embodied one, which are declared to be five – sensation, consciousness, name, impression, and form. 

The five organs of sense, the five objects of sense, sound and the rest, the common sensory, and the intellect (the abode of merit), these are the twelve inner seats. 

This should be the complement of desire and so forth, when it arises in the heart of man. Under the name of soul’s own nature, it should be the aggregate. 

The fixed idea that all impressions are momentary is to be known as the path, and is also styled emancipation.

“Furthermore, there are two instruments of science, perception and inference. The Bauddhas are well known to be divided into four sects, the Vaibhashikas and the rest. The Vaibhashika highly esteems an object concomitant to the cognition ; The Sautrantika allows no external object apprehensible by perception ; The Yogachara admits only intellect accompanied with forms ; The Madhyamikas hold mere consciousness self-subsistent. All the four (sects of) Bauddhas proclaim the same emancipation, arising from the extirpation of desire, etc, the stream of cognitions and impressions.”

” The skin garment, the water-pot, the tonsure, the rags, the single meal in the forenoon, the congregation, and the red vesture, are adopted by the Bauddha mendicants.”

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Buddha statues in a temple on Jejudo, South Korea

Buddha statues in a temple on Jejudo, South Korea


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