Judging from the ideas raised in the Introduction of this work, it is clear that one must consider Buddhism a type of philosophy – that is, as a way of life. Many authors have already proceeded to claim that this particular religious phenomenon is chiefly characterized by the numerous practical precepts which serve as guides towards an enlightened living. It is good to note that Buddhism, pretty much like philosophy, is concerned with the pursuit of enlightenment or truth. An enlightened self – immortalized perhaps in Western Philosophy by Plato’s Allegory of the Cave – is surely the goal why one enters into philosophical discourses.
In so far as Buddhism offers its own distinct ways to attain enlightenment as well, it is therefore with good reasons that one should classify this religion as philosophical in many ways. Buddhism however does not stop at stipulating suggestions for right living alone. As a system of belief, it also offers perspectives about the whole of reality.
Like philosophical discourses, Buddhism is a belief system that speaks of its perspective about the ultimate realities like human existence, cosmology, human knowledge, ontology and theology.
Surely, there is a need to look into these briefly Buddhism’s take on reality encourages an attitude of detachment on account of a belief that “everything is impermanent” (Griffiths, 1997, p. 16), and therefore in a state of constant flux. Much of Buddhism’s view about reality rests on the belief that the world is full of ‘diversity’, and the more is able to ‘reveal’ or appreciate it, the closer is one to the truth about the ever passing universe (Williams, 1989, p.
This idea is interestingly shared by an ancient Western philosopher that went by the name Heraclitus, who taught that “fire”- an element in a perpetual state of movement – is the basic element that constitutes reality. Buddhism, one need to remember, is not so much concerned with the rigorous definition of reality. But in so far it embraces an attitude of non-attachment in relating to all things, Buddhism has to anchor this belief system on a formidable reason – that one’s attachment over things is futile given the fact that all things pass away.
In fact, most of what Buddhism teaches is drawn from this ontological belief; and this doctrine of impermanence must be seen as a recurrent theme in its whole system of perspective. As far as Epistemology is concerned, the doctrine of impermanence is also maintained. Buddhism teaches that nothing can be known with exact certitude because all things are ephemeral and thus, as mentioned a while ago, “they are not what they seem” (Griffiths, 1997, p. 19). Everything is subject to change and passes away.
Thus, one may not arrive at a definitive knowledge about things at all. Which is why, Buddha maintained that “dissatisfaction” is a constant theme that defines the feelings of all who search for knowledge or truth (Mitchell, 2002, p. 33). No one is able to know what reality is; and its appearance is often misleading. One may notice that this epistemology is actually consistent with Buddhism’s anthropology, or, its understanding of human nature. If one checks the teachings of Buddha about man, one can clearly see the doctrine of impermanence as patent in it too.
Buddha believes that human nature is nothing but a constitution of events called materiality, sensation, conceptualization, volition and consciousness (Griffiths, 1997, p. 20). This type of anthropology views man not as an existing individual substance (which most of Western Philosophy have understood what human nature is), but an “impermanent self” constituted by personal events (Griffith, 1997, p. 20). Cosmology for Buddhism follows the same line of logic. Constant flux is patent in its belief that the world follows a rhythm of birth and rebirth, of cycle and current, of existence and passage.
The bulk of Buddhism’s teachings therefore solemnly enjoin its adherents to develop an attitude of detachment. Anchored on a belief that nothing in this world ever remains the same over a period of time, Buddhism points that the path towards Nirvana – or ultimate sense of bliss – lies in a state of total freedom from what this world actually offers. Lastly, it is quite interesting to point out that Buddhism rarely engages in a question about the ultimate reality or God. Broadly speaking, the whole philosophy of impermanence is at odds with a concept of deity.
The general theory about God stipulates that ‘It” is a Supreme Being defined by eternality, omniscience, omnipotence and changelessness. In a belief system where the central truth about reality rests on the ephemeral nature of all things, the concept of God is really something hard to conceive (Griffiths, 1997, p. 22). How can there be such a Being when the general characteristic of all things – supposedly including God – is change and flux? More importantly, one can ask: how can one consider Buddhism a religion at all if one is not willing to reconcile its theology with its ontology?
Griffith believes that the metaphysics of impermanence makes Buddhism deny the existence of God all together (Griffith, 1997, p. 23). But the image of Buddha as the exemplification of their quest for a transcendent end, translated in Nirvana, is perhaps the only figure of deity Buddhism actually posses. Conclusion Buddhism is both a philosophy and a religious movement. As a philosophy, it offers its adherents a way of life observed in a tradition marked by meditation, introspection, constant purgation of desire and an unending quest for enlightenment.
As a religious movement, it is concerned with the pursuit of “transcendent ends” (Slater, 1978, p. 6) they call Nirvana. Buddhism offers its own understanding of reality too. Its doctrines are highly influenced by the teachings of its founder Gautama Buddha. In this paper, it has been noted that their belief system can also be evaluated under the categories which Western philosophy uses – metaphysics, epistemology, cosmology, anthropology and theology.
These aspects are given meaning by a pervading concept of impermanence and dissatisfaction. Buddhism draws largely from a belief that everything in the world is impermanent, and that all people are enjoined to meet it with an attitude of detachment and self-control. The path towards true enlightenment happens only when one is able to see beyond what reality offers, and seek the true meaning of existence that lies only within.