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Metaphysics Of Hinayana

Metaphysics Of Hinayana

Metaphysics Of Hinayana, Let us give the main tenets of the Sarvastivada or the Vaibhasika school which the Sautrantika  also admit. Sarvastivada  denies out-right the existence of God whose place is taken by the Buddha and the theory of Karma.

The so-called soul is reduced to a series of  fleeting ideas. The so-called matter is nothing more than a series of momentary atoms of earth, water, fire and air. Everything is momentary. Change is the rule of the universe. Liberation is the extinction of all desires and passions.

                     The most important doctrine of this school is Ksanabhangavada, , the theory of Momentariness. Sometimes it is also called Santanavada or the theory of Flux or Ceaseless Flow. It is applicable to mind and matter alike for both are momentary. Sometimes it is also referred to as Sahghatavada or the theory of Aggregates which means that the so-called ‘soul’ is only an aggregate of the five fleeting Skandha, and the so-called ‘matter’ is only an aggregate of the momentary atoms. The denial of an eternal substance, spiritual as well as material, is called Pudgala-nairatmya.                                        

                   Everything is momentary. Nothing is permanent. Body, sensation, perception, disposition, consciousness, all these are impermanent and sorrowful. There is neither being nor not-being, but only becoming. Reality is a stream of becoming. Life is a series of manifestations of becoming. There is no ‘thing’ which changes; only ceaseless change goes on. Everything is merely a link in the chain, a spoke in the wheel, a transitory phase in the series. Everything is conditional, dependent, relative, pratityasamutpanna . Everything is subject to birth and death, to production and destruction, to creation and decay. There is nothing, human or divine, that is permanent. To quote the excellent words of  Shelley:

                          ‘Worlds on worlds are rolling ever,

                                     From creation to decay,

                        Like the bubbles on a river,

                                   Sparkling, bursting, born  away’.

                      ‘Everything is sorrow (sarvam duhkham); everything is devoid of self (sarvam anatma); everything is momentary (sarvam ksanikam)’  is said to be the roaring of the Sugata-Lion (saugata simhanada). Two classical similes are given to illustrate the doctrine of universal momentariness, that of the stream of a river and that of the flame of a lamp. Heraclitus said: ‘You cannot bathe twice into the same river.’ Hume said: ‘ I never can catch “myself” . Whenever I try, I stumble on this or that perception.’ William James said: ‘The passing thought itself is the thinker.’ Bergson said: ‘Everything is a manifestation of the flow of  É’lan Vital.’  A river is not the same river the next moment. The water in which you have once taken your dip has flown away and has been replaced by another water. A river is only a continuous flow of different waters. Similarly a flame is not one and the same flame. It is a series of different flames. One volume of water or one flame continually succeeds another volume of water or another flame. The rapidity of succession preserves continuity which is not broken. Similarity is mistaken as identity or sameness. The so-called ‘same flame’ is only a succession of so many similar flames, each flame lasting for a moment. The fact that a flame is a series of so many similar flames can be easily noticed when in a hurricane lantern, due to some defect, the succession of flames is obstructed and one flame succeeds another after a slight interval. Identity, therefore, is nothing but continuity of becoming. The seed becomes the tree through different stages. The child becomes the old man through different stages. Rapidity of succession gives rise to the illusion of unity or identity or permanence. ‘Just as a chariot wheel in rolling rolls only at one point of the tyre , and in resting rests only at one point; in exactly the same way the life of  a living being lasts only for the period of one thought. As soon as that thought has ceased the living being is said to have ceased.’  ‘The wheel of the cosmic order goes on without maker, without beginning.’

Metaphysics Of Hinayana

                   Buddha avoided the extremes of eternalism  and nihilism. He denied the ultimate reality of the empirical self, though he asserted its empirical reality. He is reported to have said: ‘If  I, Ananda, when the wandering monk Vachchhagotta asked me: “ Is there the ego?” had answered: “ The ego is,” then that Ananda, would have confirmed the doctrine of the Samanas and Brahmanas  who believe in permanence. If I, Ananda, when the wandering monk Vachchhagotta asked me: “ Is there the ego?” had answered: “ The ego is not,’” then that, Ananda, would have confirmed the doctrine of the Samanas and the Brahmanas, who believe in annihilation.’ Buddha said: ‘O, ye monks, I am going to point out to you the burden as well-as the carrier of the burden: the five states are the burden and the pudgaia is the carrier of the burden; he who holds that there is no ego is a man with false notions.  And he also said : ‘O, ye monks, the body is not the eternal ego. Nor do feeling, perception, disposition and consciousness together constitute the eternal ego; he who holds that there is an eternal ego is a man with false notions.’ The Hinayana interprets this wrongly as an outright denial of the ego and reduces it to the five states. The soul is a bundle of the five Skandha— rupa or matter, vedana or feeling, samjna or perception, samskara or disposition and Vijnana or consciousness. The first skandha is material. It is the physical organism with which the other four psychical skandha   are invariably associated in empirical life. The soul or the psychophysical organism is an aggregate of these five factors.

Metaphysics Of Hinayana

The body may be more lasting, but the soul is ever restless. There is no underlying unity. These five skandhas are also found as the links in the Wheel of Dependent Origination. Samjna is mentioned there as nama and the entire psychophysical organism is taken together in the fourth link as nama-rupa. Vedana is the seventh, samskara is the second and Vijnana is the third link. Only these five states of consciousness (including the material frame) are real ; the mind or the ego or the soul is unreal. The soul is an aggregate of the body, the sensations and the ideas. All this is beautifully illustrated in the ‘Questions of King Milinda’ (Milinda-panho), a dialogue between King Milinda (perhaps the Greek King Menander) and a Buddhist sage Nagasena. Some extracts from this dialogue may be profitably quoted here :

          ‘And Milinda began by asking, “ How is your Reverence known, and what, sir, is your name?”

         “ I am known as Nagasena, O King, and it is by that name that my brethren in the faith address me, yet this is only a generally under-stood term, a designation in common use. For there is no permanent individuality (no soul) involved in the matter.”

Metaphysics Of Hinayana

                 Then Milinda said: “ If there be no permanent soul involved in the matter, who is it, pray, that enjoys robes, food and lodging? Who is it that lives a life of righteousness? Who is it who devotes himself to meditation? Who is it who attains Nirvana? . . . There is neither merit nor demerit; there is neither doer nor causer of good or evil deeds; there is neither fruit nor result of good or evil Karma. If, most reverend Nagasena, we are to think that were a man to kill you there would be no murder, then it follows that there are no real masters or teachers in your Order, and that your ordinations are void…. Do you mean to say that the hair on the body is Nagasena?”

        “ I don’t say that, great king.”

       “ Or is it the nails, the teeth, the skin, the flesh, the nerves, or the

brain, or any or all of these, that is Nagasena?”

       And to each of these he answered no.

     “ Is it the skandha of rupa, or vedana, or samjna, or samskara, or

Vijnana, that is Nagasena?”

        And to each of these he answered no.

      “ Then is it all these skandhas combined that are Nagasena?”

       “ No, great king.”

        “ But is there anything outside the five skandha that is Nagasena?”

       And still he answered no.

       And then the venerable Nagasena asked king Milinda: “ Great

King hast thou come on foot, or in a chariot?”

     “ I came in a chariot, sire.”

     “ Then define the chariot. Is the pole the chariot? Is the axle the chariot?  Are the wheels or the spokes, or the framework or the yoke or the goad that is the chariot?”

     And to each of these he answered no.

    “ Then is it all these parts put together that are the chariot?”

   “ No, sir.”

   “ But is there anything outside them that is the chariot?”

  And still he answered no.

Metaphysics Of Hinayana

                      And then the venerable Nagasena said: “ Just as the ‘chariot’ on account of its having all these things— the pole, the axle, the wheels, the spokes, the framework, the yoke and the goad— comes under the generally understood symbol, the designation in common use, of ‘chariot’.  similarly ‘soul’ or ‘individuality’ or ‘being’ or ‘personality’ is only a generally understood symbol, the designation in common use, for the five skandhas. There is no permanent soul involved in the matter.”

                    It is important to remember that both mind and matter, ‘soul’ and ‘chariot’ alike, are reduced to mere conventional symbols for the aggregate of ideas or of atoms. The soul is a stream of ideas. The matter is a stream of atoms of the four elements— earth, water, fire, and air.

                 Hinayanism  admits action without an agent, transmigration without a transmigrating soul. It is the ‘character’ which transmigrates, not the ‘soul’. Karma is an impersonal law which works by itself. Unlike the orthodox Hindu ‘Karma’,  the Bauddha ‘Karma’ does not depend on any divine power. And also unlike the Jaina ‘Karma’, the Bauddha ‘Karma’  is not subtle matter pulling down the soul from its spiritual height. The theory of Karma is an impersonal law and it works by itself without needing any agent or soul. In upholding all these doctrines, the Vaibhasika and the Sautrantika are in agreement. They differ in the following:

Metaphysics Of Hinayana

  • The Vaibhasika attaches supreme importance to the commentaries called Mahavibhasa and Vibhasa on an Abhidharma treatise called Abhidharma-jnana-prasthana, while the Sautrantika attaches supreme importance to the Sutrantas or Sutras of the Sutrapitaka. Hence their names.
  • The Vaibhasika, like Descartes and some modern neo-realists, believes in direct realism and may be called a presentationist, while the Sautrantika, like Locke and some modern critical realists, believes in the ‘copy theory of ideas’ and may be called a representationist. According to the Vaibhasika, external objects are directly known in perception. He believes in Bahya-pratyaksa-vada. The Sautrantika, on the other hand, believes in Bahyanumeyavada because, according to him, external objects are not directly perceived, but only indirectly inferred. We do not know the thing-in-itself or the svalaksana. We know only ideas which are copies or mental pictures of reality and from these copies we infer the existence of the originals. The criticism of the Vaibhasika  against this view is that if we do not know the originals, we cannot even say that our ideas are the copies of the things-in-themselves.
  • The Vaibhasika accepts seventy-five dharmas, the ultimate momentary elements of existence; the Sautrantika cuts their number down to forty-three and treats the rest as a result of mental construction.
  • The Sautrantika is more critical and like Kant emphasizes the a priori element of thought-construction (kalpana or vikalpa) in knowledge and paves the way for Vijnana vada.

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