chapter  II
19 Pages

The 'Silence' of the Buddha and the Beginnings of the Dialectic

Several interpretations of the avyak:rta have been offered by oriental scholars. It has been suggested that Buddha was innocent of metaphysics or was not interested in it, as he was eminently a practical man with a severely practical aim. The locus classicus of this view is the Cuta M alunkya Sutta8 wherein Buddha likens the metaphysician to that foolish man wounded by an arrow who, before being attended to, would like to know what sort of arrow struck him,

The 'Silence' of the Buddha and the Beginnings of the Dialectic 37 whence it came, who aimed it etc. The wounded man would have died before he got satisfactory answers to his questions. The moral drawn is that metaphysical enquiries are unnecessary and can even prove harmful to spiritual life. It is contended by some others1 that Buddha was an agnostic, though his agnosticism was not a cogently reasoned one, and that this alone fits in with his system and moral discipline. Oldenberg suggests that the questions ought not to be answered and even that they could not be answered. A negative answer or the annihilationist interpretation is also given by the same scholar: "Through the shirking of the questions as to the existence or non-existence of the ego is heard the answer to which the premises of the Buddhist teaching tended: the ego is not, or what is equivalent to it-the Nirvai).a is annihilation." 2

These three principal interpretations-the practical, the agnostic and the negative-are stated here as specimens of the incorrect reading of Buddhism. These and similar interpretations do not accord with the teaching of Buddha and the doctrines of the Buddhist schools. We cannot have a way of life which does not imply a philosophy,3 an ultimate appraisal of reality. The human mind cannot for long be in a state of suspense and postponement. As regards the annihilationist interpretation, Dr. E. J. Thomas very pertinently observes:

The Buddhists had reached the conception of a state of which neither existence nor non-existence could be asserted."1