Notes from BPU Sri Lanka - Third Year

Rationalism A – (lectured by ven. Vanaratana) 11th of February, 2011

                 LISTEN  >>>                    B.P.G 302   Lectured by ven. Vannarathana, redcorded by ven. Mon monk Nai Suriya, 11st of February, 2011

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B.P.G 302  Lectured by ven. Wannarathana, recorded by ven. Mon monk Nai Suriya, 25th of February, 2011

18. 03. 2011

-         The real meaning of 'philosophy' is the study of being or mind. Buddhism teaches about previous, present and future life. Christianity teaches only the present and future life, and what was before life is God.  Christianity believes, that after death one can go to heaven. Thus religions teach about life. Buddhism teaches especially about previous lives – what happens now is related to what we have done in the past – thus present and past lives are connected. In Christianity it is not so, there is no acceptance of past life.

-        Rationalism believes, that experience that we get through our senses is incorrect. The way to get correct knowledge is thinking, rationalism. Like with a crane – one time crane stands on one leg, but it can stand on two legs as well – one may wonder which one is true and which one is false. However, we have to accept both as correct.

-        In medieval West the philosophers believed that what cannot be explained by wisdom or evidence can be proved by existence of God – thus a 'God concept' was used. However, there was hidden knowledge, truth (sacca). When there is no possibility to believe a truth, it can be called 'hidden knowledge'.

-        In the Buddha's time people believed, that world arose from 'asat' (non-existence). But the question was how an existing world can appear from non-existence (asat). Thus from asat (non-existence) had to arise sat (existence). However, sat should arise from sat. People who tried to argue this way can be called 'takkivīmaṃsī', 'those who are arguing and questioning'.

-        In the Buddha's time also some people believed, that after death one is extinguished into non-existence, while others believed that one would be reborn according to God.

-        Buddhism cannot be accepted as a rationalistic view, because Buddhism accepts knowledge that comes through five senses (which is not accepted by Rationalism).

            The word rationalism has come into English language from Latin word 'ratio', which means 'reason'. Rationalism is based on reasoning. In Pāli text this meaning is given as takkivīmaṃ. Traditionalists (anusāvakā) and rationalist (takkivīmaṃ) were means of knowledge that were mentioned in Kāma Sutta in the Buddha's time. Sīgalovāda Sutta mentioned that householder Sīgala was venerating six-directions/sites every day in the morning. For that, what he learned from the tradition?

            In western philosophy, rational thinking is very popular among philosophers. In Greek period, Plato and Aristotle were rationalists and they were mathematicians also (though Socrates was also a famous philosopher from that time, he was not a rationalist). Mathematics is based on logical reason. In maths everything is based on examining – thus they emphasize that the only way to get correct knowledge in rational thinking. Rationalist philosophers can be classified under two major groups:
1.      Early rational philosophers
2.      Modern rational philosophers

            Ancient rational philosophers introduced solutions for the problems of the world using rational thinking, but their solutions were not scientific. Aristotle believed that God exists. He introduced the idea of 'Unmoved Mover'. In the philosophy of Upaniad, the concept of Brāhman is also explained with the help of rational argument. Upaniad thinkers claimed that the universe had been created by the Brāhman. Upaniad use rational thinking to prove the opinion - universe was created by the Brāhman: they said go to the forest and look at a mango tree, it has its own identity. Mango tree is not identical with a coconut tree. Even among mango tree there are variations. Each group has its own identity. To keep these things in order, there must be someone who created it (a creator) - Brāhman of God. With the emergence of scientific knowledge scientists used experiments to verify theories introduced by ancient traditional philosophers.

-        Traditional philosophers don't like to change their view, while modern philosophers try to find mistakes and change the previous ideas.

            Sometimes scientist disprove the argument of rationalist using experiments especially Galileo disproved the famous hypothesis of Aristotle. As a result of scientific knowledge modern rational philosophers began to improve, with the help of scientific knowledge. Among them René Descartes, Leibnitz, Spinoza - all these three philosophers used scientific methods in their rational arguments. They respected the scientific theories. Early rationalists did not know about these scientific theories – therefore, their arguments were discarded/rejected by scientists. For an example, once Aristotle introduced the theory of Earth in the center of the Universe. He claimed, that the center of the Universe was Earth and the Sun moved around the Earth. The rational ideas of Aristotle have been disproved with scientific revelations. According to rationalists the knowledge can be gained without the empirical factors (whatever has been cognized by five senses). They argued that the knowledge a person gained through sense experience might not always be correct. For example mirage.

            Other important idea of rationalism is necessity. Example – students have to work hard to get through their exams. Here passing the exam is empirical necessity, while hard work is the rational necessity.

- Empirical necessity is that what is necessarily needed – to pass exam is the thing we need to do. However, for passing exam we must work hard – working hard itself is not needed, but it is an unavoidable requirement for fulfilling the aim – passing the examination. Thus the empirical (visible) necessity is passing the exam while the rational (logical) necessity is working hard (studying).

            The aim of rationalism is rather finding the logical necessity than the empirical necessity, because logical necessity always helps to find a solution for metaphysical and moral problems.

                                                                                                 Innate Idea             
           According to modern rationalists some ideas are present since birth. Those ideas do not require any suggestion. As an example, hunger and sower(?). According to Descartes some ideas exist from the day of birth of a person. Such ideas do not require any sense experience - they are inborn ideas - Descartes argued that idea of the existence of the God is also innate.       

                              Rationalism B (modern rationalism) (lectured by ven. Vanaratana) - 25th of February, 2011             

        The modern leading rationalist is René Descartes. He was the founder of modern rationalism. He was born in a noble family. He was a brilliant person since his childhood. His father called the little Descartes as a philosopher. In his early days he served in the arm-force. Descartes was a rationalist. He attempted to understand the world through rational thinking. There was not much place for rational thinking in the medieval period before Descartes.

-        He was the first person who identified “rationalism”. He invented/developed this kind of philosophy. He did not face many problems, unlike the other people who tried to refute or proof the ideas.

            Because medieval thinking was based on the concept of God, faith and devotion that were considered as the path reaching the God. Medieval philosophers argued that the existence of God cannot be understood through rational thinking.

            Descartes held the view that the truth can be understood only by rational thinking. Therefore, he was doubtful about everything that would come without a rational basis. For him, the first rule was to accept nothing as truth what he would not recognize clearly as a truth, to accept nothing more than what was presented to his mind clearly and so he would not have occasion to doubt. The second rule was to divide each problem or difficulty into as many parts as possible, analyzing a problem to have a clear understanding. The third rule was to commence one's own reflection with objects that are as simple and as easy as possible to understand the particular problem ; rise them little by little to knowledge, up to the most complex knowledge. The fourth rule was to make observations so complete and general and one should be certain that one has omitted  nothing. This includes the influence of mathematical knowledge of Descartes in his philosophical thinking.

-        Sometimes if there is a problem, it may be understood better after being divided into several parts.

-        “Discourse of methods” - using mathematical knowledge of Descartes he tried to understand the philosophical problems. Thus he realized, that by dividing a problem into several smaller problems one can solve it easier.

            Descartes' view was, that there is nothing real in the external world. Descartes doubted/suspected his own experience. He thought that everything man experiences might not be real. Descartes determined to doubt everything until the doubt becomes impossible to be pushed. Descartes said:

“Everything I saw was false. There is nothing in the world that would be certain/permanent. ”

            To explain this, he further brings the argument of wax. It has its own characteristics. It has a shape. If we take a flame near to the wax, it starts to melt. Then all characteristics that it had before, disappeared. After the piece of wax is fully melted, how can one say that it is the piece of wax that one has seen before, in order to grasp the nature of wax. One cannot use their senses, but one must use their mind.

                                                                              Dualism in the philosophy of Descartes 

 -        Dualism means body and mind.

            According to Descartes, body works like a machine. It is out of a certain material, it extends and moves. This follows the law of physics. On the other hand, the mind is described as a momentary entity. Descartes argued, that only human beings have mind and the mind interacts with the body. This is a form of Buddhism, that the mind controls the body or otherwise body controls the mind. The question is who makes the combination. According to Descartes, it is the God.

                     Rationalism C, the Buddhist view on rationalism A (lectured by ven. Vanaratana) 11th of March, 2011 

                                                                                                   Baruch Spinoza             

           Spinoza was influenced by Descartes. He emphasized that everything is based on one-substance God. Spinoza's solutions to the problem of body and mind were to argue, that the body and mind, two things, belong to one major substance i.e., God.

            Spinoza argued, that everything that exists in the nature is one reality, namely 'the single substance', that is the basis of Universe. He has introduced five arguments to prove his standpoint.

1.      Substance that exists cannot be dependent on anything or even on its existence.
2.      No two substances can be shared by the same nature or attitude.
3.      Substance can be only caused by something similar to it.
4.      Substance could not be caused
5.      Substance is infinite

                                                                                                  Wilhelm Leibniz 

 -        We can't say that he was a rationalist.

            Leibniz argued against Descartes and Spinoza. He argued, that there are many substances in the world, he called them monads. According to Leibniz, we are living in the all-possible world. It is attempted to reconcile that idea that everything in the world is determined from the beginning by the God. But he accepted human beings have free will.

                                                                                         Buddhist view on rationalism 
 -        In Brahmajāla Sutta there is »»Idha, bhikkhave, ekacco samaṇo vā brāhmaṇo vā takkīhoti vīmaṃsī, so takkapariyāhataṃ vīmaṃsānucaritaṃ sayaṃ paṭibhānaṃ evamāha -- ‘sassato attā ca loko ca vañjho kūṭaṭṭho esikaṭṭhāyiṭṭhito« - Language is the main thing we use for arguing. In Vajirā Sutta is mentioned, that “vehicle” is not a one thing, it consists of many parts (engine, wheels etc.). Thus after we remove each part we can't find anything like “vehicle”. Also, after we disassemble the engine, we can't find even the engine. In Kasibāra Sutta a Brahmin heard sound “ciccitāyiti ...” - the sound of milk rice. Language is not always giving the correct, real path – thus Buddhism didn't reject takkivīmaṃsī (the logical way) but explained that attachment for such views is not wise.

            In Buddhism the word 'takkī' (argument) is used to denote the meaning of rationalism, hence it gives the meaning 'reasoner'. Rationalists construct metaphysical arguments on the basis of reasoning. In the Buddhist teaching the word takkī goes with the word 'vīmaṃsī' (examining). According to Brahmajāla Sutta (Dīgha Nikāya) there are four such major theories mentioned in the following manner:

            »Idha, bhikkhave, ekacco samaṇo vā brāhmaṇo vā takkī hoti vīmaṃsī, so takkapariyāhataṃ vīmaṃsānucaritaṃ sayaṃpaṭibhānaṃ evamāha -- ‘sassato attā ca loko ca vañjho kūṭaṭṭho esikaṭṭhāyiṭṭhito; te ca sattā sandhāvanti saṃsaranti cavanti upapajjanti, atthitveva sassatisama’nti.«

                                                            (Dīgha Nikāya – Brahmajāla Sutta – Sassatavāda)

            “Here a certain ascetic or Brahmin is a logician, a reasoner. Hammering it out by reason, following his own line of thought, he argues: “The self and the world are eternal, barren like a mountain-peak, set firmly as a post. These beings rush round, circulate, pass away and re-arise, but this remains for ever.”
(“The Long Discourses of The Buddha” - Translation by Maurice Walshe, Wisdom Publications, 1995)

            This is a product of rational thinking and metaphysical speculation and it is also said to be self-evident (sayaṃ-paṭibhāṇaṃ). This is very much similar to 'a priori thinking'. It is similar to »Sato natthi vināso, asato natthi sambhavo. During the time of the Buddha there were many metaphysical speculations, 1. Sassato loko (eternal world), 2. Asassato loko (impermanent world), 3. Antavā loko (limited world), 4. Anantavā loko (unlimited world), 5. Taṃ jīvaṃ taṃ sarīraṃ (what is body that is life), 6. Aññaṃ jīvaṃ aññaṃ sarīraṃ (body is different, life is different).

-        These metaphysical speculations – Sassato loko, asassato loko (whether world is eternal, impermanent etc.) etc. were asked by Mālunkyaputtaand the Buddha refused to answer those questions.

            These theories are considered to be exclusive product of takkī. Many more speculative theories based on takka were discussed in the Pañcattaya Sutta of Majjhima Nikāya:

»ekantasukhīattāca loko ca.. ekantadukkhīattāca loko ca.. sukhadukkhī attāca loko ca.. adukkhamasukhī attāca loko ca, idameva saccaṃ moghamaññanti.«

            The Buddha did not consider takka as the path for understanding the reality. Takka does not lead a person to the truth always. It is further classified in the Saṅdaka Sutta of Majjhima Nikāya. As it mentions, there are four types of reasoning:
1.      Sutakkitaṃ tathā (well-reasoned and true)
2.      Sutakkitaṃ aññatā (well-reasoned and false)
3.      Dutakkitaṃ tathā (ill-reasoned and true)
4.      Dutakkitaṃ aññatā (well-reasoned and false)

            As the Kālāma Sutta points out, there is four-fold reasoning:
a) Takka hetu (logical way)
b) Naya hetu (methodical way)
c) Diṭṭhi nijjāna khatthiyā (dogmas)
d) Ākāri parivitakkena (as teachers followed, we also follow)
            The Lord Buddha did not accept all these kinds of reasoning as sufficient for apprehending the reality. All logical and illogical views appeared in Brahmajāla Sutta were derided/mocked by the Buddha as false. According to the Ariyapariyesana Sutta (Majjhima Nikāya) Buddhism is a doctrine that cannot be apprehended through reasoning. Reasoning, that depends on language is something conventional. Truth is transcendental - thus we can also see reasoning as insufficient for explanation of the truth. Modern philosophers introduce the Buddha as a rationalist, but reasons that they have given on this proposition are arguable, different from philosopher to philosopher. They call the Buddha a rationalist for various reasons:

1.      The Lord Buddha is considered to be a rationalist because he was against dogmatism.
2.      According to Baṭṭācarya the Buddha was a non-dogmatist, because He would not like to accept anything dogmatic. He accepted only the knowledge, that comes not only through perception but also through rational thinking.
3.      In the book “Indian Philosophy” by Rādhakrishnan is also mentioned, that the Buddha was a rationalist, since He tried to explain the reality without spiritual revelation.
            But it is difficult to claim exactly, whether the Buddha was a rationalist or a non-rationalist.

            Rationalism is a philosophical approach, opposite to empiricism. Rationalism is used as a theory, which means, that truth cannot be explained through the knowledge that we get through sense experience. It is difficult to explain Buddhism as a rationalistic or empirical thinking. In some discussions the Buddha denies the arguments based on metaphysical basis and can be understood through rationalism. According to Mahā Sīhanāda Sutta (Majjhima Nikāya) the Buddha recommends only the doctrine, which is empirically and experimentally verifiable. (?)According to Saṅdaka Sutta of Majjhima Nikāya the Buddha advised ven.  Ānanda that so far as anything can be ascertained by reasoning.(?) In Culla Kamma Vibhaṅga Sutta can be seen usage of rational arguments in the discussions on kamma and rebirth. The Buddha was asked the question: “What is the reason for inequality among human beings?” The answer was: “Beings inherit their kamma and kamma divides beings to the appropriate, high or low, status.

The Buddhist view on Rationalism B (lectured by ven. Vanaratana) 18th of March, 2011             

        Rebirth was also inspired/understood by the Buddha through his extra-sensory perception. The Buddha explains his experience of rebirth in Aṅguttara Nikāya in several suttas. It is said, that the decease and the birth of beings, both to be verified by one's own vision. According to Mahākamma Vibhaṅga Sutta and Mahāsīhanāda Sutta (Majjhima Nikāya) Buddha has experienced the rebirth of those, who indulge in misconduct, who reproach the innocent, hold false views, born in a state of decline, they are born in hell after death.