Buddhist Concept of Reality

There has been a continuous quest to devise some methodolgy that would lead to making an individual human life healthy, happy, wholsome and in harmony with its physical, psychological, social and every other aspect of its environment. Even today’s ‘scientific’ quests are basically aimed at this quest.
It appears that by understanding Budddhist reality, it is possible to establish a meaningful beginning in any dialogue of Buddhism vis-a-vis any other system of thought that aims to bring wholeness and happiness to human life. This thereby may help in constructing a solid basis for understanding human existence as well as a methodology leading to wholesome happiness.
The perception of the nature of reality in Buddhism is a consequence of the Buddha’s original enlightenment. Failure to recognize this fact has caused many problems in the understanding of Buddhism. Taking enlightenment to be strictly a private affair and not involving it in any discussion, especially within the framework of other doctrines and principles of Buddhism, serves no purpose at all. Enlightenment and the exposition he gave of it are the greatest gift of the Buddha to mankind. The content of the enlightenment undoubtedly revealed a rare philosophic vision of reality though the vision has eluded the best minds and still remains the greatest challenge for all followers.
By focusing on the nature of Buddhist reality, we can see later developments in Buddhism in a better light. Whole development of Buddhist epistemolgy and logic that also influenced greatly non-Buddhist thinking was a result of inquiry into method(s) of knowing about reality.
S. R. Bhatt in article ‘Logic and language in Buddhism’ (in: Brian Carr, Indira Mahalingam (eds.) – Companion Encyclopedia of Asian philosophy – London, Routledge, 1997, pp. 414-415) writes “In the non-Buddhist traditions of Indian philosophical thought, and perhaps also in early Buddhist thought, there appears to be a tacit acceptance of the possibility of acquiring knowledge of reality. However, Nâgârjuna (about AD 250), a later Buddhist dialectical thinker, raised serious doubts about the possibility of acquiring knowledge by pointing out the self-contradictory character of all means of acquiring knowledge, Nâgârjuna’s objections stimulated and compelled all subsequent philosophers to provide a solid foundation to epistemology and logic before proceeding with the formulations of their philosophical positions.
In Buddhist circles Asanga (about AD 405) and Vasubandhu (about AD 410) made pioneering attempts to construct epistemology and logic on the Buddhist pattern. However it was Dignâga (about AD 450) who put Buddhist epistemology and logic on a solid footing and gave them a distinctive character. He is, therefore, rightly regarded as the father of Buddhist epistemology and logic, and also of medieval Indian epistemology and logic in general, for he not only gave a precise formulation to Buddhist epistemology and logic but also imparted a new direction to Indian epistemology and logic by way of composing independent treatises on these two interspersing the treatment of metaphysical problems within them, a style which was later on followed by Gangesa (about the twelfth century AD), the founder of the school of Navya-Nyaya. Buddhist literature prior to Dignaga deals with the problem of knowledge and the means of knowing either very casually or not at all. There seems to be no work devoted to the problem. But Dignaga felt the necessity for a distinct treatise on epistemology and logic to establish the Buddhist doctrines in a logical manner. He explicitly mentions in the Pramâna-samuccaya that its composition was led by the need to establish the means of valid cognition.
The task initiated by Dignaga was brilliantly continued by Dharmakirti (about 635), a doyen of Buddhist epistemology and logic. His Pramâna-vârtika, Pramânaviniscaya and Nyaya-bindu are masterpieces of Buddhist epistemology and logic. When Dignaga undertook an examination of the logical tenets of other philosophical schools in his treatise there were reactions from the latter. For instance, Uddyotakara and Kumarila (about AD 500) tried to controvert the views of Dignaga. Dharmakirti therefore defended and modified the views of Dignaga, thereby strengthening the foundations of Buddhist epistemology and logic. However, his exposition, which was ended to explain and defend the views of Dignaga, superseded and eclipsed the original by its superior merit. This tradition of Dharmakirti was carried forward by Darmottara (about AD 847) and subsequently by, amongst others, Jnanasrimitra about AD 1040.”
Therfore, it seems fundamental to focus on the following three aspects of the Buddhist reality underlyig all Buddhist thought and philosophy: (1) reality and its locus,
(2) the nature and function of reality, and
(3) the implications of reality.


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