Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge

Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge

Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge

Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge

Excerpt

The origins of the Indian empiricist tradition and its development in Early Buddhism are largely unknown to Western scholarship, despite the fact that T. W. Rhys Davids at a very early date compared Buddhism with Comtism and Radhakrishnan went so far as to say that 'Early Buddhism was positivist in its outlook and confined its attention to what we perceive'. However, modern Western thinkers, who have dipped into the literature of Buddhism, have sometimes been struck by its analytical and positivist turns of thought. H. H. Price, who was the Wykeham Professor of Logic at the University of Oxford, remarked that 'there are indeed some passages in the early part of the Questions of King Milinda which have a very modern ring, and might almost have been written in Cambridge in the 1920's'. Aldous Huxley was of the opinion that Early Buddhism for the most part respected the principle of verification and confined its statements to verifiable propositions. In his own words: 'Among the early Buddhists, the metaphysical theory (i.e. of Brahman of the Upanishads) was neither affirmed nor denied, but simply ignored as being meaningless and unnecessary. Their concern was with immediate experience, which, because of its consequences for life, came to be known as "liberation" or "enlightenment". The Buddha and his disciples of the southern school seemed to have applied to the problems of religion that "operational philosophy" which contemporary scientific thinkers have begun to apply in the natural sciences . . . Buddha was not a consistent operationalist; for he seems to have taken for granted, to have accepted as something given and self-evident, a variant of the locally current theory of metempsychosis. Where mysticism was concerned, however, his operationalism was complete. He would not make assertions about the nature of ultimate reality because it did not seem to him that the corresponding set of mystical operations would admit of a theological interpretation'.

Huxley's qualification that 'the Buddha was not a consistent operationalist' may not have been made had he been aware of the epistemological basis and the nature of the Buddhas' positivism and had he not been misled by scholars to think that the Buddha had dogmatically accepted the doctrine of rebirth from the prevalent tradition (v. Ch. VIII).

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