Notes from BPU Sri Lanka - Third Year

Pragmatism A (lectured by ven. Vanaratana) 27th of May, 2011

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B.P.G 302  Lectured by ven. Wannarathana, recorded by ven. Mon monk Nai Suriya, 3th of June, 2011

Here is no recording on the 17th of June, 2011. If someone has the recording, please give it to ven. Sarana.

           It developed in America in 19th century. Charles Sanders Peirce (1834-1914) is considered to be the person, who developed this philosophy. American scholars consider Pierce to be the inventor of philosophy. He tried to find solution for philosophical problems. According to pragmatists, traditional philosophical teachings are not concerned with modern problems. According to them, those theories are like instruments which are not strong enough to solve their problems. The theories, that can solve problems, should have pragmatic values. Their criterion of truth was sufficient theory, as it is  only based on experiments.

 Pragmatism B (lectured by ven. Vanaratana) 3rd of June, 2011 

             There is a relationship between truth and good. The truth is good because it can bring solutions for problems of our existence. According to pragmatic theories, true is true only when it brings results. There is another teaching in modern philosophy similar to pragmatism, namely 'utilitarianism'. The aim of pragmatism is much similar to utilitarianism. Pragmatism talks about methods that have a certain value of truth. This kinds of ideas are very much similar to experiments in the field of science. Utilitarianism pays much attention to the result of the action. If the majority is benefited only by action, such action should have a value of utility, as utilitarianism explains. C. S. Peirce was known as the founder of pragmatism. But William James was the person, who made pragmatism much famous in the world. The purpose of pragmatic philosophy is to find out what is valuable and in what sense it is valuable for us. W. James and Peirce were influenced by the teaching of empiricism, due to which their new way of thinking developed. That kind of thinking is known as 'pragmatism'. James applied the pragmatic method to the epistemological truth. He would seek the meaning of truth through the way how ideas are functional in our lives. He said:

            “... any idea that will carry us prosperously from any one part of our experience to any other part, linking things satisfactorily, working securely, saving labor; is true for just so much, true in so far forth, true instrumentally. (1907: 34)” 

            James was eager to discover how are true believes reflecting the human life, what is their current value, what is the result they lead to. According to William James, beliefs do not follow the needs of external world, the method of religion does not reflect (or is not concerned sufficiently) with human suffering. James understands true belief should be satisfying – ideas may be powerful enough to provide one with a temporary satisfaction (through understanding), but insufficient for solving of our problems.

                                                                                    Pragmatism in Buddhism A  

           Buddhism is also recognized as a pragmatic teaching. Buddhism emphasizes a core of teachings to be practiced for the betterment of this life and afterlife and for the attainment of Nibbāna. Buddhism is teachings that should be practiced, not a teaching based on faith, devotion and belief. Buddhism is pragmatic as it is concerned with what is useful for the attainment of the ultimate goal. Rhys Davids has used both descriptions with reference to Buddhism and the Buddha. Buddhist teaching is both pragmatic and utilitarian. The Buddha emphasized the validity of truth as it appears in Kālāma Sutta. In Kālāma Sutta the Buddha mentions, that one should follow what one just knows, and one should not let himself to be misled by report, tradition, hearsay, proficiency in the collection (religious teacher), mere logic, mere inference, considering appearance, delight in speculation, seeming possibilities, nor respect for recluse (samaṇa). “But,” he said, “Kālāmas, when you know for yourself – these things are unpractical, blameworthy, conceived by intelligent ones, these things are not to be performed and understand that it leads to loss, sorrow, then indeed, you reject them. But if at any time you know yourselves, that these things are profitable, blameless, they are practiced by the intelligent ones – these things, when performed and understood, they lead to profit. If you do not understand, then reject the theory. If you know for yourselves, that something is useful to you and it brings practical value, then accept it.

Pragmatism in Buddhism B (lectured by ven. Vanaratana) 17th of June, 2011   

          Hīnayāna Indian scholars in his book “Outlines of Indian Philosophy” described Buddhism as a pragmatic teaching. According to him, the Buddha's only one thought was, that it is necessary to overcome evils, that dominate everywhere. According to Him, it is the chief characteristic of life.[1] He describes the parable appearing in the Saṃyutta Nikāya, that is known as the 'handful of siṃsapa (sīsapā)leaves' to highlight the principle that guided the Buddha in His discourses. The Buddha, taking a handful of siṃsapa (sīsapā) leaves into His hand, explained that what He had explained was much less than He knew, but it was that what was needed for getting free from suffering. Thus he compared the handful of leaves in His hand to the leaves in whole the forest.[2] According to M. Hiriyanna, the Buddha was pragmatic, because He neither gave reason for theoretic curiosity nor did He attempted to find an answer to metaphysical questions.[3]

            Prof. K. N. Jayatilaka strongly holds that the Buddha was a pragmatic. He gives many examples from the Pāli suttas. For example the parable of arrow, parable of raft and the questions that He set aside (abyākata) in support of his view.

            Edward Conze also accepts Buddhism as a pragmatic teaching, because it describes a practicable way to practice. It is also utilitarian. It is useful to practice for the realization of the final goal. (As ven. Pategama Gnanarama explains,) “In the very first discourse, where the Four Noble Truths are introduced for the first time, it is stated that those truths have  three  circles  (tiparivaṭṭa)  and  twelve  modes  (dvādasākāra). The knowledge of each Noble Truth is one of the three circles amounting to four modes. Then with regard to the First Truth, it should be comprehended (pariññeyyaṃ) and  has  been  comprehended  (pariññātaṃ).  The  Second should be abandoned (pahātabbaṃ) and has been abandoned  (pahīnaṃ).  The  Third  should  be  realised  (sacchikātabbaṃ)  and  has  been  realised  (sacchikataṃ)  and  the Fourth should be developed (bhāvetabbaṃ) and has been developed (bhāvitaṃ).”[4] This is the pragmatic view of Buddhism. “The analysis of twelve modes would substantiate the fact, that the teaching of the Buddha is not a mere philosophical hypothesis, but a doctrine to be understood and practiced. Therefore, the knowledge and practice of these twelve modes are known as 'seeing things as they really are'  (yathābhūtañāṇadassana).”[5]

            “The ethical summary of the teaching found in the Dhammapada illustrates its pragmatic nature more explicitly:

“Abstention from all evil,                           »sabba pāpassa akaranaṃ,
cultivation of good and                               kusalassa upasampadā
purification of one’s mind                           sacittapariyodapanaṃ,
— this is the Teaching of the Buddhas”.       etaṃ buddhānasāsanaṃ«        - Dhammapada 183

          Then again it is stressed:

            “Striving should be done by yourselves, the Tathagatas are only teachers. The meditative ones, who enter the way, are delivered from the bonds of Māra”.[6]

»Tumhehi kiccamātappaṃ,                  “You yourself should make an effort, 
akkhātāro tathāgatā;                            The Tathāgatas are only teachers, 
Paṭipannā pamokkhanti,                       the meditative ones who enter the way are delivered
jhāyino mārabandhanā.«                      from the bonds of Māra.”             -  Dhammapada 276
            “Mere recitation of the scriptures without practice is criticised  and  the  person  who  engages  only  in  recitation  is compared to a cowherd who does not derive the benefit of rearing cows:”[7][8]

»Bahumpi ce saṃhita [sahitaṃ (sī. syā. kaṃ. pī.)] bhāsamāno,     “Though much he recites the Sacred Texts, 
na takkaro hoti naro pamatto;                                                    but acts not accordingly, that heedless man
Gopova gāvo gaṇayaṃ paresaṃ,                                                is like a cowherd who counts others' kine; 
na bhāgavā sāmaññassa hoti.«                                                   he has no share in the blessings of a recluse.”     - Dhammapada 19

            “In Buddhist ethical conduct, until one realises the supreme state, one is called a moral  trainee  (sekha),  because  he  is  still  on  the  path  of practice. Only after the realisation of the objective he is called a moral adept (asekha). The Buddha’s call to practise the Dhamma is again found in the Dhammadāyāda Sutta of the Majjhima Nikāya”[9] (sutta no. 2) and in the Alagaddūpama Sutta (Majjhima Nikāya, no. 22). Thre it is explained, that it should be taken as a reason to end Saṃsāra (taraṇatthāya)and not to be grasped (gahaṇatthāya).[10] When all these factors are considered as a whole, through these factors it is possible to say, that up to a certain extent Buddhism is a pragmatic teaching.

[1]    The teacher actually said: “According to Him, it is the only characteristic of life.” But this is not mentioned in the book about which the teacher speaks. Moreover, it is not in accordance with the truth.
[2]    This story appears in Saṃyutta Nikāya – Mahāvaggapāḷi – 12. Saccasaṃyuttaṃ – 4. Sīsapāvanavaggo – 1. Sīsapāvanasuttaṃ
[3]    Here is the exact quotation of the part of the book from which the teacher took the ideas: “(3) It is pragmatic. Buddha taught only what is necessary for overcoming evil whose prevalence is, according to him, the chief  characteristic of life. The principle which guided him in his numerous discourses is clearly shown by the following story related in one of the Suttas. Once when sitting under a śiṁśupa tree, Buddha took a few of its leaves in his hand and asked his disciples that had assembled there to tell him whether they were all the śiṁśupa leaves or whether there were more on the  tree. When they replied that there were surely many more, he said: 'As surely do I know more than what I have told you.' But he did not dwell upon all that he knew, since he saw no practical utility in doing so. It would on the contrary, he thought, only make his hearers idly curious and delay their setting about the task of exterminating evil. 'And wherefore, my disciples, have I not told you that ? Because, my disciples, it brings you no profit, it does not conduce to progress in holiness, because it does not lead to the turning from the earthly, to the subjection of all desire, to the cessation of the transitory, to peace, to knowledge, to illumination, to Nirvana: therefore have I not declared it unto you.' Deliverance from pain and evil was his one concern and he neither found time nor need to unravel metaphysical subtleties. He was thus eminently practical in  his teaching.  'Philosophy purifies none,' he said, 'peace alone does.' It is sometimes maintained that Buddha was an agnostic and his silence on matters commonly referred to by other religious teachers is explained as due to a lack of certainty in his knowledge of ultimate things. But it is forgotten that to so interpret the teaching of Buddha is to throw doubt upon his spiritual sincerity. 'If he did not know the truth, he would not have considered himself to be a Buddha or the enlightened. I From what we have just stated, it  will be seen that we have not to look for any metaphysics as such in the teaching of Buddha. He was averse to all theoretic curiosity.” “Outlines of Indian Philosophy”, M. Hiriyanna, Motilal Banarsidass, 1993, reprint 2005)
[4]    The teacher simply copied whole this part from the book “Essential of Buddhism” from ven. Pategama Gnanarama, free to download from .
[5]    The teacher simply copied whole this part from the book “Essential of Buddhism” from ven. Pategama Gnanarama, free to download from .
[6]    Translation probably by ven. Pategama Gnanarama.
[7]    The teacher simply copied whole this part from the book “Essential of Buddhism” from ven. Pategama Gnanarama, free to download from .
[8]    Translation to English copied from “The Dhammapada” by Narada Thera, Vajirarama, Colombo, 1940
[9]    The teacher simply copied whole this part from the book “Essential of Buddhism” from ven. Pategama Gnanarama, free to download from .
[10]  These two words appear only in Jātaka Aṭṭhakathā - [536] 4. Kuṇālajātakavaṇṇanā