Buddhist Philosophy Term Paper

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Buddhist Philosophy

Man has attempted to explain what the universe is like, and has endeavored explaining change for centuries. In this process there have been several theories formulated. Many of these theories have served as valuable bases for further as time progressed. This is because what is researched and appealed to people has been further developed with the passage of time. Also, several theories may influence the thinking of others, and hence various directions in philosophical thought may be achieved.

The developments that have been witnessed through history exemplify two major arguments. The two sides referred to are: Western thought and Eastern thought. These are quite different from each other in several ways. Western thought is generally focused on understanding the origins of the universe, and holds that while change occurs with the passage of time in this material world permanence is an element of eternal life. This thought follows the belief that a creator (God) has set this world into action, which means that mortal beings will undergo change as nothing is permanent here. There is belief in an after life in which all there will be no change from one form to another. Here essence will remain the same and will be known. In contrast this belief is Eastern philosophy that is based on believing that everything in the universe is likely to change. Anicca, impermanence, is the core of their belief, as they hold that all over the universe everything thing changes through time.


Eastern philosophy denies permanence throughout the universe. The core belief called 'Anitya' (impermanence) is a belief that all phenomena that are triggered due to certain describable or indescribable factors gradually meet an end to their existence.

Anitya has two degrees of impermanence, termed gross impermanence and subtle impermanence (Harvey 1990).

Gross impermanence refers to birth of a substance, its temporary survival, and then its disappearance. Subtle impermanence refers to the momentary existence of a substance. This means that this impermanence is not in need of secondary causes due to the already present source of destruction. This source of destruction is present because it is in itself the source of the substance's birth too (Harvey 1990).

Anicca or Anitya (impermanence) is the basis of all Buddhist philosophy, and it is also the basis of Buddhist comprehension of the world or reality. In the light of this understanding, Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, said that permanence does not exist anywhere in the universe because he experienced the creation and destruction of entire systems. If whole universes could be wiped out so quickly individuals are also thought to be disappear too (Harvey 1990).

Siddhartha Gautama emphasized that he saw substances go through stages after their creation and then disappear. From this, he believed that there was no permanent essence to anything, and that all substances are made up of conditioned states. The rise and disappearance of various substances was because of various conditions that influenced their existence in the world. If conditions were to change then so would the substance. Its essence could not remain the same if the conditions around didn't remain the same (Harvey 1990).

Siddhartha Gautama did not simply just assert all of what he did without providing explanations for them. For Western believers what he has to say might in fact be difficult to digest, as one wonders how he could have asserted all this without really knowing for sure what the world and its process were? Naturally, there would have to be some kind of evidence if his views were to be accepted at all. Indeed, in the East these assertions of Siddhartha Gautama are widely accepted, and have been so for many, many centuries (Harvey 1990).

Siddhartha Gautama asserts that all things only appear to be permanent to and never changing because of human perception. Indeed beyond human perception there are changes going on, even if they cannot be seen. This is because there are changes occurring at such a slow rate that it is difficult for one to notice. Most things are said to be in a constant process of change. Though mountains too, solid as they are, appear not to be undergoing any change. They in fact do change, and this change is exemplified in the way that their very period of survival is dependent on tectonic forces. These occur with in the crust and the mantle of the earth (Harvey 1990).

Also, as inactive and permanent as they may appear to be volcanoes may suddenly erupt when the pressures within the bowels of the earth can no longer be contained. These eruptions may in fact create bigger volcanoes, and even develop into mountain ranges with the passage of time. It must be noted here that this activity is in fact the developmental phase during which the mountain gets larger and larger. A single mountain may also be said to die if the eruption succeeds in creating a range that overwhelms the original one (Bowker 1997).

Oceans too do not remain the same with time too. This is because they are also known to change and develop into lands. Just like Mountains and oceans that seem so large and permanent because of the length of their existence can change in time, all matter is susceptible to change as well.

Matter cannot really be termed as dead because of the fact that it is all actually going through changes that may be extremely slow. In contrast to these changes there are also changes in matter witnessed that are so speedy that it is difficult to assess what states they assume through their existence. This refers to emission of radiation from radio isotopes, during which substances are known to change into something completely different through by emitting radiation. In the same way, there are substances such as rock that only appears to be inactive, but in actuality they are going through changes that one cannot see. Considering the development of this understanding was carried out many years ago it is easier to comprehend these in contemporary times because of scientific discovery (Bowker 1997).

Scientific theory and discovery made by individuals after John Dalton's findings in the 19th century. This serves as ample proof for the mobility of substances that appear to be dead. Dalton, in the west formulated a theory which explained that matter was composed of the tiniest indivisible substances. Later, this theory was crashed by contemporary ones that explained the existence of particles that were yet smaller than atoms themselves, and that of these particles electrons were mobile. Electrons are said to revolve around atoms, even when the substance as a whole does not move. The reactions that substances under are based on and dependent on the participation of these electrons. Hence, modern scientific theory has aided explanation of Buddhist philosophy that is ages old (Bowker 1997).

Siddhartha Gautama does not only explain the nonliving substances as ones that undergo continuous change. He also explains the existence of human beings and the change that they undergo in accordance with five core, conditioned, impermanent states. He says that though individuals assume themselves to be all one unit they are in fact composed of different parts, which explain the lack of permanent essence. These conditioned states that conditioned, Siddhartha Gautama refers to are: the body (rupa), sense contacts and sensations (vedana), perceptions and conceptions (samjna), volitional actions and karmic tendencies (samskaras) and basic consciousness (vijnana). All of these collections (skandhas) of parts together represent the individual (his or her real nature), and they all under go constant change. As a result of this continuous change, the body turns old, often becomes ill, and then dies (Harvey 1990).

Sense contacts are responsible for perception, and these undergo continuous change till old age and then death. At the same time, karmic motion also does not stop either, it could continue actively throughout an individual's life, but at death it all ceases to exist along with the other samskaras.

Siddhartha Gautama said that human beings are better off when they do not build an intimate relationship with their own bodies. Attachment with one's sensual experiences too isn't advised either because of the fact that an individual would experience regret (dukka) if they were to do so. Sense contacts are the ones that cause individuals the desire to establish an attachment with themselves. This is because through a first experience of anything an individual may learn to desire an experience like the first if they are impressed by it. In order to experience what one desires again and again, dependence would be created on the sense contacts. From there, an attachment could be established, which might result in a craving for one's self.

All experiences are also momentary, as human beings hang onto whichever enthralls them. If they cannot hang onto one because it disappears they will grab onto another. On the basis of this it is understood that human beings are caught up in a complex net of needs and wants. These are…

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