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Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy
Chapter 3: Gotama

Abstract: A common, but mistaken, interpretation of historical Buddhism is critiqued by Hesse.

I. Gotama (the name of the historical Buddha), his followers, Govinda, and Siddhartha seek alms.

    A. Why doesn't it bother these holy men to beg for a living? Are we bothered by the different values of a different culture?

    B. Cf., the story of Mary and Martha in the Bible.

    C. It's a question of economics: many of us seek wealth to be economically independent in their old age.

      1. In this way, we feel a sense of pride or self-esteem that we are independent. That is, we are not dependent upon the fear of being hungry, being uncared for, or being wanting.

      2. Thus, much of our life-course is driven by the fear that we will not be able to take care of ourselves.

      3. In this manner, our life-script is dictated by seeking power, prestige, money or perhaps just adequacy as a means to justify our existence.

    D. But we do not have to prove this worth—the whole notion of justifying our existence is wrong-headed.

      1. This, of course, is similar to what Jesus meant when he said to be like the birds of the field.

      The Hindu texts concerning the sannyasin read "Take no thought of the future and look with indifference upon the present."

      2. Huston Smith points out the seeker of truth or reality or Self does not seek to be economically independent, but seeks to be independent of economics.

      3. He or she has no social pretensions, no belongings, no obligations, and no expectations.

      4. Thus, our efforts aren't toward being somebody, and we do not spend time trying to be something other than what we are.

      5. Pride, self-worth, as well as pretense, get in the way of the journey.
II. The Manner and Message of the Buddha.
    A. Both Siddhartha and Govinda recognize Gotama although he was virtually indistinguishable from the others, perhaps through noticing his body language.

      1. To the trained eye, many personality traits are observable. (Cf., as well the techniques of Holmes in A. Conan Doyle's works.)

      2. Charisma: in many cases body language is more revealing than conscious thought—i.e., the manner and bearing of a person often communicates better than what that persons says..

      3. Humphreys observes about a Buddha's poise: 

      "These practices, if honestly pursued, will lead in time to the birth of a faculty which is best described as self-recollection. This complex quality, one of the distinguishing marks of spirituality is nowhere better exemplified than in Buddhism...

      "Such a dignified, dispassionate inner poise must rouse the respectful admiration of all who strive towards self-mastery, yet it is but the outcome of a faithful building into character of the hints and suggestions set out above."  Christmas Humphreys

    B. Hence never had Siddhartha esteemed a man so much [Hesse, 23] .

      1. Buddha promised two things:

        a. "Salvation" is a release from suffering.

        b. A kind of stoicism results where we don't worry about the things outside our control. (We can only control our own thoughts.)

      2. Yet, Siddhartha was not impressed with Buddha's teachings. For us to see why, let us first sketch what the teachings were.

III. Buddha's Teachings are summarized. See the notes on Buddhism hyperlinked below for more detail.

    A. Four Main Points—The Four Noble Truths

      Problem: (1) No one can deny that existence involves a great deal of suffering for all human creatures—"Life is suffering."

      Diagnosis: (2) This suffering and general dissatisfaction come to human beings because they are possessive, greedy, and above all, self-centered—"Selfish desire is the cause of unhappiness."

      Prognosis: (3) Possessiveness and greed, however, can be understood, overcome, and rooted out—"We should not have selfish desire."

      Prescription: (4) This change in viewpoint can be accomplished by the Eightfold Path.

    B. The Eightfold Path: The way to overcome the unhappiness that results from "body-identified mind" or ego begins with the preliminary step of right association. Choose your friends wisely.

      1. Right knowledge; first, you must see clearly what is wrong.

      2. Right aspiration: next, decide to be cured. (Don't lose yourself in trivial things).

      3. Right speech: speak so as to aim at being cured. (Your speech can affect your behavior and inflame you. "If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything.")

      4. Right behavior: you must act; knowledge alone is not nearly enough.

      5. Right livelihood: the way you make your living cannot conflict with your path.

      6. Right effort: the process must not be too arduous nor too easy—it should progress at the right tempo so as not to be abandoned.

      7. Right mindfulness: think about your path at all times.

      8. Right absorption: learn to meditate.

IV. Why Govinda broke with Siddhartha: Govinda is a disciple, a follower. The Buddha has the answer; Siddhartha does not.
    A. Different kinds of people require different kinds of religion.

    B. Govinda did not know that Siddhartha was not going to join the group. He thought he could accurately predict the behavior of his friend.

    C. Keep in mind the question as you complete the book: "Was Govinda better off with his decision to follow Buddha rather than Siddhartha,  in light of Siddhartha's later life?"

    D. Siddhartha points out to Govinda [Hesse, 25A] that Govinda has renounced family, friends, choice, and parents. How has he renounced these?

      1. Family, friends, parents: why should anyone count more than anyone else? These are caused by an accident of birth.

      2. Choice: The Buddha preached a doctrine of causes. We should not worry about things that we do not control (i.e., family and friends)—a doctrine of determinism.

    E. Note that Siddhartha does not tell the truth to Govinda for the sake of a "higher truth." Siddhartha says to Govinda, "How could I find a flaw in them (Buddha's teaching)" [Hesse, 25B].

      1. Why does Siddhartha tell his friend there is no flaw? The mental well being of his friend is more important than trying to explain a truth that is beyond Govinda. (In Jung's typology, Govinda is a feeling type.)

      2. But is it? Isn't this kind of truth precisely the sort of question that Govinda has staked his life on?

      3. Would Govinda be better off knowing the flaw now, rather than possible finding out too late in his life to truly seek enlightenment?

V. Siddhartha critiques the Buddha's doctrines.

    A. Buddha asserts the world is an interconnection of causes; there is no break in the chain of events.

      1. In the West, often causality is interpreted in terms of necessary conditions.

      2. Determinism is defined as the doctrine that every event has a cause (including mental events). Hence, on this view, a noncaused event would be termed "a miracle."

      3. The problem of deteminism, of course is the general problem of freedom vs. determinism. We think our choices are free, but under analysis, we always seem to find a cause or a reason for what we do. What could it possibly mean for a choice to be undetermined and not subject to cause, reason, or chance?

      4. Buddha's message is that  life is dislocation (suffering or dukkha) and this dislocation has causes. We cannot control the causes; therefore, we need not worry about things beyond our control. Hence, Hesse asserts a kind of stoicism by way of interpreting Gotama's message.

    B. The following problem arises: if Buddha's teaching is true, then how can we choose Buddhism? [Hesse, 26D] "How can we rise above the world of causes? How can we disconnect the chain of causes in order to choose to follow his teaching?"

    C. The problem is resolved in the following way:  Buddha asks whether are people happier with this doctrine or with the world of desires. (Is Buddha not telling the truth to the world for the presumed pragmatic benefit of the world in the same way that Siddhartha did not tell the truth about finding a flaw in the Buddhist philosophy to Govinda?)

      1. Siddhartha knew that what Buddha describes is not what the Buddha experienced—i.e., enlightenment or union with the One.

      2. Siddhartha concludes experience, itself, is the great teacher. We cannot learn from someone else.

        a. Buddha has given to Siddhartha, his own self  (i.e., Siddhartha). He must choose, judge, and experience for himself.

        b. "If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him!"
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