One of the things I’ve noticed about Buddhism is the philosophy doesn’t offer answers to the big questions.
Whereas other religions strut around claiming there is a truth, and they have it. Why we are here? Why is the cosmos the way it is and no some other way? (You know the whole Ultimate Truth / Truth with a Capital T thing.)
Buddhism remains silent on such questions and certainties. When the Buddha was asked if a god exists he he gave no reply.
We expect and even demand simple answers, obvious truths because we need certainty, safety and comfort. But we’re also lazy in our search.
In Buddhism, all of reality is empty of intrinsic existence. Sunyata / Shunyata.
When we try to ask questions like ‘Why are we here?’, ‘What’s our purpose?‘ and such we’re asking after an essence about our existence. An answer that ends all questions, a certainty, security, what I call the ‘Last Word Mentality‘. That is the final answer.
Yet Buddhists see this quest as futile, even harmful. It points out what Münchhausen trilemma explains. All efforts towards an ultimate bedrock of truth lead to failure. The claims are either circular, an infinite regress, or rest on axioms we create.
If you’re asking these questions then you’re demanding answers from a cosmos that has no obligation to provide them. Your ego is calling the shots here. Its neediness has taken over.
This is where attachment and suffering from Buddhism explain. If you’re so desperate for answers that you can’t live without them then your attachment towards safety has dominion over you. As do the people who peddle such answers.
To help further, let’s look at a different way of thinking about cosmology—the Two World Theory.
Here we have a world, this one, it changes and is finite. The reality we have to deal with is this reality. Some believe there is another reality beyond this, a permanent one, which is sometimes called God. It’s beyond space and time and is obviously beyond our senses. This permanent one brings about this temporal reality.
It’s a dualistic overview of existence, two planes or dimensions: one changing and the other permanent.
Some Buddhists and all Taoists see the cosmos not as two things but as one thing, a Monism. That is, the reality is only one thing, ‘the cosmos’. Time, matter, energy, change and transforms, but it is all the same stuff. A more scientific view might be quantum fields that permeate everything, including ourselves.
A singular reality of a web of causal relations is what Emptiness and Shunyata are describing. We also have the maps and models we create to explain existence, scientific, philosophical, religious etc.
We can’t know the empty web of changing reality with our thought and concepts. It’s why in Buddhism, there are the ideas of Two Truths.
One truth is the truth of the map; that is, the map fits together; the other is the truth of reality that we can’t conceive of but can experience directly.
The most obvious moment is a discrepancy between the map and models we use and the reality we face. The map doesn’t fit; our expectations don’t materialise.
The lesson we learn is the Maps is not the territory. Every map is just one way of seeing reality, often with a specific use in mind.
The interconnected reality si the one we face, but we can’t fully describe it using the abstract ideas we invent.
Buddhists are not into metaphysical speculation because there’s no way to prove or disprove the truth behind this one. To them and myself, there is no reality beyond the changing one we live.
Buddhism is this light can be seen as an emancipation of the mind. By accepting Emptiness and uncertainty (there is no explainable ultimate truth) it gives us the freedom to let go and surrender to what is going on, the reality we face. This is Tathata or Suchness.
We see ourselves in a better light because our neediness is revealed. Such insight helps free our minds from the shackles of habitual thinking. The grasping for the certainty leads us to draw erroneous conclusions and create suffering for ourselves and others.
We avoid the traps of Eternalism (definitive meaning and truth) and Nihilism (absence of truth and meaning. Charting the middle path between.
When we see and accept that all things are impermanent, that the ego is illusory, that truth is inexplicable. We are then liberated by that knowledge. Once freed we don’t have to bother ourselves with ideas on Metaphysics, or ultimate truth and having to prove it.
Religions that claim truth, as a god exists, or materialism is the truth then become untestable, unprovable claims. As such we can accept that not having a position on any of them makes more sense.
No-one carries around baggage they don’t think the need. By not taking a stand on such claims we can live in a sort of Spiritual Minimalism where we accept the big questions can’t be answered and therefore don’t need an answer.
The reply ‘I don’t know’ is the answer. In Japanese, it’s called Mu, or the answer is a non-answer, ‘I don’t know’, not-applicable. To put it another way. There is No secret ingredient to life.
Once free of the illusion of certainty we don’t have to carry it. We can let go of a desperate neediness for answers, and refrain from trying to find security where there is none.
Buddhism is not about supernatural insight or wisdom but seeing how our minds work. Buddhism doesn’t answer the big question and they don’t bother wasting time trying to answer them. Unlike the western philosophical and theological traditions which keeps chasing after its own tail trying to define reality, existence.
Buddhism as I see it is a philosophical minimalism. It is a monism that sees one reality, and we’re part of this unity. They accepts this reality is what we have to deal with regardless. It is a more straightforward model because it doesn’t speculate anything beyond it.
We also have the habit of strutting around believing the cosmos owes us something. But it has no obligation to make sense, to provide happiness, love, income or wealth. It owes us nothing.
I learned to see that Buddhism is not about giving answers, but helping us see our desire and attachment for answers. Such is the basis for our suffering and once seen we can let the answers go, to Stop trying to Grasp the Wind. Once we let go, a burden is lifted, because life doesn’t have to make sense.
Questions like, ‘Why are we here?, Whats the ultimate purpose of existence? Why is the cosmos the way that it is?’; can now be seen as absurd as questions like: ‘why is the sky blue? Why is water wet, Why does chicken taste like chicken and not like beef?’
My answer to the big question is a non-answer because it’s the only answer I can honestly give. Those who say there must be an answer reveal their insecurity. An argument from personal incredulity, the argument from emotion. ‘I can’t bear the notion of life without answers, therefore there must be answers.‘
This is what I see in Buddhism. It’s not a system of beliefs about the cosmos, but the insight into our psychology that needs and seeks safety, has expectations and an ego that demands they be fulfilled.
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