Famous Buddhist author, Stephen Batchelor, once said “I honestly don’t think the Buddha was interested in the nature of reality. The Buddha was interested in understanding suffering, in opening ones heart and one’s mind to the suffering of the world.” While the Buddha appeared to be uninterested in the truth of reality, some of the Buddha’s teachings appear to be about it. He taught that everything is interrelated, that the phenomenal world follows natural laws and that the ordinary appearance of things is an illusion. While he claimed to be against going too deeply into these metaphysical debates and questionings, a considerable amount of his philosophies seem to revolve around them. Nonetheless, the Buddha has a list of famous unanswered questions that he refused to discuss or preach on. This list includes: Is the world eternal, Is the world finite, is the self identical with the body or is it different from the body, and does the Buddha exist after death? Even though the founder of this religion made it clear that Buddhism is not about metaphysics, the religion itself poses many metaphysical teachings. Many of these questions are actually answerable through the teachings of the very man who famously rejected them. While the Buddha does not specifically comment on the length of the earth’s existence, he does comment on the nature of its end if it were to happen. He also speaks about reincarnation, karma, and what lies after this life. Buddhism was founded off of the goal to eliminate suffering, and in this search for a suffer free life, or Nirvana, the Buddha created specific teaching and insights on how to get there. These teachings actually answer a lot of the questions the Buddha himself would not answer. The Buddha’s first teaching, the Four Noble Truths, focuses on becoming detached from the physical world of pain and suffering, and moving onto Nirvana, a state of oneself without any suffering at all. The Buddha discusses these Four Noble Truths as an alternate reality from the one you are living today, addressing the metaphysical question of the nature of reality. The Buddha himself seems less interested in directly addressing metaphysical questions and allowing people blindly follow as he wants people to focus on achieving Nirvana first, and by following the path to this ultimate result, discovering the truths about the world around them through their own experiences. Another main Buddhist teaching is the Three Marks of Existence, which addresses one of the original questions of if the self is identical with the body. The three marks are made up of Anicca, Anatta, and Dukkha. Anicca teaches us the metaphysical theory of impermanence. It points out that all things are temporary and unlasting. Anatta is the idea that there is no soul or self. It states that everything in existence has no soul or true everlasting self. Much like the idea of Atman and Brahman in Hinduism, the idea is that there is no unchanging or eternal aspect of the universe, including ourselves. A big part of this ideology is that the idea of self is actually just an illusion that only causes long lasting suffering. We spend our lives focused on protecting our self even though nothing is permanent to begin with. Finally, Dukkha is the idea that everything in existence is suffering. These marks are considered to be the basis for the four noble truths and many other Buddhist ideologies. The three marks however appear to have gotten their start from a Buddhist theory called Pratityasamutpada. The idea is that everything is caused by and causes other things and that this has been going on forever. There is no original cause that set off everything else it just has always been going on. That being said, the idea is that it can be ended, and that is the basis behind Buddhism. This is often spoken about as chain of twelve different factors of existence, such as attachment and ignorance, the goal being to break the chain and obtain liberation. According to Buddhism, a person is made of up five Skandhas. First is the physical dimension, where our bodies and the physical word exists. The next is sensation or feeling, this includes our five senses and our mind, which buddhists consider a sense organ. Then there is impulse, where we crave attention, habits and materialistic needs. Fourth there is perception, where we process and recognize the world around us. Finally there is consciousness, which is considered to be intertwined with all other components mentioned. The consciousness thrives off of the other factors and cannot exist without them. Through these components, we see that a person is not one state of being, but rather a group of multiple parts that make up a whole being that are constantly changing and interacting with each other. Buddhism focuses on becoming aware of this ballance and eliminating the negative components of it. Because it is assumed that there is no soul or actual self, there is nothing that happens to your consciousness after death. However, Buddhists believe in reincarnation through a combination of the five skandhas and karma coming together in the next physical form. Buddhist karma is much like Hindu karma, as it is the accumulation of your choices and actions throughout your lifetime, along with the karma from your past life, resulting in a direct impact on the nature of your future. Throughout his lifetime, the Buddha had many metaphysical question brought to him by his followers, most of which were turned down. Rather, he guided his followers to focus on working on themselves first, and discovering the truths about the world along the journey themselves. This being said, he did inadvertently answer many of these questions through his many teaching. One of the questions asked to him was the nature of what happens to the Buddha after death, to which he simply replied “What happens to the footprints of the birds in the air.” Through his teachings however, it was discovered that he believed that the death of an enlightened being was like extinguishing the fire that is their karma. He felt as though focusing on death and what happens afterwards was due to a false sense of self and a distraction from the ultimate goal of eliminating suffering. Though Buddhism is not directly about metaphysics, it does leave those who follow it with a bit of insight into what could be the truth.
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