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Was the Buddha a Pessimist - S. N. Goenka

Was the Buddha a Pessimist - S. N. Goenka

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The Author has explained the reasons for fundamental misunderstandings that have evolved about the Buddha and his teaching and has resolved them with lucid examples.
The Author has explained the reasons for fundamental misunderstandings that have evolved about the Buddha and his teaching and has resolved them with lucid examples.

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Published by: Vinayānanda Bhikkhu on Sep 15, 2010
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Was The Buddha A Pessimist? - Acharya S. N. Goenka
"Was the Buddha a Pessimist" is a translation and adaptation of the Hindi "Kyā BuddhaDukkhavādī The?" first published in Nepal in May 2000. In it, Acharya S. N. Goenka, WorldTeacher of Vipassana, has explained the reasons for fundamental misunderstandings thathave evolved about the Buddha and his teaching and has resolved them with lucidexamples. These misunderstandings developed when the Buddha's teachings were lost toIndia and most of the world. This was largely due to the disappearance of the appliedteaching (the technique of Vipassana). But later even the original words of the Buddha(Pali canonical literature) were less accessible. Thus, misconceptions grew and becamefirmly entrenched.Fortunately, this liberating technique was preserved in its pristine purity in Myanmar(Burma) by an unbroken teacher-student tradition. With its revival in India and the world,it is again shedding light on the efficacy of Buddha's real teaching, and bringing greatbenefit to the humanity. Further, the entire Pali literature along with the commentaries,sub-commentaries, and sub-sub-commentaries has been published and made available inIndia and elsewhere around the world. A CD-ROM containing this literature has beenproduced with various facilities for research.This publication will be of interest for those who are practicing the applied teaching of theBuddha as well as for those who are well acquainted with the prevailing views of the past.The translator and editors are solely responsible for any errors in the present edition.May all beings be happy! Vipassana Research Institute 
Sabbe sattā sukhī hontu,sabbe hontu ca khemino;Sabbe bhadrāni passantu,mā kiñci dukkhamāgamā.Sukhino vā khemino hontu,sabbasattā bhavantu sukhitattā.
Was the Buddha a Pessimist?
 For centuries in India, the Buddha and his teachings have been accused as beingpessimistic. To some extent, this notion has also spread outside India to those countrieswhere people are not acquainted with his teaching. Many Western philosophers have beeninfluenced by this concept. In India, many eminent scholars and philosophers have fallenprey to this belief and, as a result, the masses have come to accept it as the truth. During my own school days, my friends and I also accepted this belief that the Buddha wasa pessimist. My mentality in those days was such that wherever I read any work by anypoet that emphasised suffering, I would see this as an effect of the Buddha’s pessimism.In a few instances, I had even composed a few pessimistic poems myself. However, I laterdecided not to continue to author such works, believing that they would create a harmfulatmosphere for individuals and society. I decided that if I wrote anything, it would onlyconcern love for my motherland, social upliftment and happiness.
How I was influenced by this belief 
When I look back at my childhood, I find that it is when I first came in contact with AryaSamaj that I was influenced by the belief that the Buddha’s teaching is pessimistic. I readMaharshi Dayananda in his famous work Satyarth Prakash where he wrote, "According tothe Buddha there is nothing but misery in the entire world—sarvasya sarasya
 duhkhātmakatva…. However the truth is that there is happiness as well as misery in the
 world. It is a falsehood to say that the entire universe is full of misery." This belief,received from Arya Samaj in pre-War Myanmar, became deeply ingrained in my mind andwas further strengthened when I came to India during World War II. In those formativedays of my youth I read many articles and commentaries on the pessimistic teaching of the Buddha. 
Dr. Radhakrishnan
 The writings of Dr. Radhakrishnan, a distinguished philosopher of our times and ex-President of India, further affected my thinking with his observations that: Insistence on suffering is not peculiar to Buddhism, though the Buddha emphasised itovermuch. In the whole history of thought no one has painted the misery of humanexistence in blacker colours and with more feeling than the Buddha. We cannot help feeling that the Buddha overemphasises the dark side of things. TheBuddhist view of life seems to be lacking in courage and confidence. Its emphasis onsorrow, if not false, is not true. There is a tendency in Buddhism to blacken what is dark and darken what is grey. Theoutlook is restricted on principle to all that is sharp, bitter and painful in life.At the theoretical level, the vision of Buddhists is limited to the thorny, bitter andmiserable aspect of life. However, despite these earlier intellectual conditionings, it became very clear to me afterreading the original words of the Buddha and after experiencing Vipassana (the practicalessence of his teaching) that many baseless allegations have been made against theBuddha and his teaching during the last 1000 to 1500 years. This happened because theaccusers were not truly familiar with the teaching of the Buddha. Their allegations had nofoundation in what the Buddha actually taught. Over the centuries, the repetition of these false accusations caused them to becomestronger and more dogmatic. The teachings of the Buddha were blackened to such anextent that not a trace of the truth about him or his teachings remained in India. While Ido not believe that Dr. Radhakrishnan did this deliberately and that these distortions of truth were committed unknowingly, his writings reveal how blemished India’s view of theBuddha had become. I conclude that this happened because the Buddha’s original wordshad long since disappeared from India. Therefore, the Buddha was quoted out of context,and even worse, things that he never said were put into his mouth. Thus, the fallaciousand misleading belief that the Buddha was a pessimist became stronger and stronger. The extensive collection of the original words of the Buddha (Tipiaka) returned to India
 during the lifetime of Dr Radhakrishnan following the Sixth Synod in Rangoon (Yangon)from 1954-56. The Government of India published the many volumes of the Tipiaka
 through the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara under the able guidance of Ven. Jagdish Kashyap.Dr Radhakrishnan even wrote a common preface to all the books of the Tipiaka. However,
 it is evident that, as the President of India, he was extremely busy and apparently had notime to read and appreciate the contextual meaning of the teachings of the Buddhacontained in these books. Otherwise, he would certainly have altered his prior beliefs aboutthe asserted pessimism of the Buddha. 
The criticism continues in modern times
 The erroneous things said in India about the Buddha and his teaching have continuedunabated for more than a thousand years. No one has ever clarified the truth of this
matter. On the contrary, more and more people have been reiterating these falsehoods. Itis unlikely that the critics were repeating these fallacies out of spite towards the Buddha.Like many scholars, they depended on whatever inaccurate things were already writtenabout the Buddha.The practice of mischaracterizing even the motivation of the Buddha for seeking the truthcontinues today. An Indian mystic recently said about the Buddha: If somebody says that there is nothing but misery in the beginning, middle and the end of human life he is making a mistake.It is wrong to say that there is misery everywhere by just looking at disease, decay, death,grief and lamentation. It is wrong to say that misery is a noble truth. An intelligent manshould refute such a claim and say that misery is not all there is to this existence. When the Buddha was Prince Siddhartha he saw that there was disease, decay, death,grief and lamentation. Seeing these things he came to the conclusion that this was thetruth. He thought that there is ultimately just old age and death. He gave the four NobleTruths based on this belief. According to the Buddha, these four are the ultimate truths inhuman existence.Actually, knowledge of misery is not the only ultimate truth. Human life is neither an everlasting colourful caravan nor a permanent storm of misery.Both are there… this is the truth. The four Noble Truths as taught by the Buddha are notnatural ultimate realities. The pessimistic philosophy (of the Buddha) will never benefit anyone. To remain entangledin pessimism is to continue to carry injury. Mankind’s progress in constructive work wasdiscouraged by the basis of pessimism created 2500 years ago. Useful is the going forth of only those ascetics who leave home for homelessness with theintention of helping others. Siddhartha Gautam left home in search of the truth. Therefore his going forth intohomelessness was not logical. "Truth" is the ultimate and fundamental reality, which is always within oneself, withoneself. Therefore it is not necessary to leave home to search for it. It is a wrong theorywherein one leaves home to search for something that can be found within oneself. That which is changeless is the truth. Therefore, the truth that the Buddha was seekingwas not logical. The Buddha thought that he would go to Magadha to give such a teaching that wouldchallenge the Vedas… He learned Kapil philosophy in the monastery of Sanjay. Why did hego so far away from home to learn Kapil philosophy? This was caused by confusion. TheBuddha did not study under any scholar who could have stopped him from renouncing thehousehold life. This had a very bad effect on the times after the Buddha. The Buddhistsforced many people to become monks against their wishes and this had an unwantedeffect on society. Therefore, the Buddha’s leaving home and becoming a monk was notproper. Such contemporary misunderstandings are entirely rational in light of their long history inIndia. I also would have maintained similar views had I not read the original words of theBuddha and seriously practised Vipassana, the practical aspect of his teaching. 
False Criticism of Pessimism
 One of Arya Samaj’s missionaries had come from India to Mandalay in pre-War Myanmar.In one of his discourses, he glorified and sought to prove the greatness of the Arya

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