Philosophy of Buddhism

The Buddhism Philosophy

There are good reasons to believe that Buddhism to begin with, was a body of moral principles rather than a metaphysical system. But in course of time philosophical background became necessary for its survival and propagation. Buddhism borrowed some ideas of Brahmanical philosophy under these conditions.

Buddha’s Indebtedness to the Upanishadic Philosophy

Buddhism as such had a great indebtedness to the philosophy of the Upanishads. The Buddhist philosophy had its main root in the doctrine of Karma (Law of the Deed done). The Upanishadic theory of Karma, that the effect of deeds regulates future births was accepted by Buddha. He therefore, concluded that since results of Karma or deeds affect future birth, good deeds would lead to higher birth leading to ultimate salvation of the soul. But Buddha never clearly expressed his views on the soul or the beginning and end of this world. Buddha shared the prevailing pessimism of the time and regarded life and worldly existence as a source of misery.

Therefore, he advocated the theory that true happiness could come if one could get his deliverance from rebirth. Thus in his belief in the doctrine of Karma and in his advocacy for deliverance from rebirth, Buddha was influenced by Upanishadic ideas.

Influence of Sankhya and Other Philosophy

Buddhism is supposed to have been much influenced by the Sankhya philosophy and the older system of yoga and dhyana. Buddha rejected the Brahmanical doctrine of Yajna and Good Deed as path to salvation. The Buddhist Suttas contain the theory that one could attain the Brahma Loka by performing Good Deeds, but the soul cannot be liberated from rebirth by that.

Early Buddhism as such, looked upon salvation of the individual as the goal. But it faced criticism from Brahmanical thinkers that Brahmanical philosophy preached salvation of all beings but Buddhism pursued a narrow aim by preaching only salvation of the man. Buddhism underwent some transformations due to this criticism. The Orthodox Buddhists who stuck to the original view of the salvation of the individual came to be known as Himayanists (having a lower aim) and others who preached salvation of all beings as their aim, came to be known as Mahayanists. The first adopted Prakrita language as its vehicle of preaching and the second betook Sanskrit. The second i.e., the Mahayana system bore the influence of Brahmanical philosophy to a greater extent than the Hinayana creed.

Buddha rejected the authority of the Vedas and condemned animal sacrifices. The Brahmanical gods and the concept of heaven (Svarga) were rejected by him. Buddha’s teachings were ethical and rational. It was based on the concept of equality of man. He rejected the doctrine of caste. He said that anyone can attain salvation by practice of the Eightfold principle. He stressed the doctrine of Ahimsa or non-violence. Animal sacrifices in the Yajna were deplored by him. The doctrine of Ahimsa as Buddha saw it had a social relevance. Non-killing of animals offered protection to cow, which provided milk for the infant and the old. The bullocks drew the plough. Sutta Nipata states that Buddha opposed cattle slaughter for this reason. Buddha opened his church to the women and the down-trodden class of the society. Brahmanical religion was orthodox enough to exclude them from participation in rituals and rites.

The Sramanic Idea Pre-existed Buddhism

Buddhism as a system of Release from earthly suffering was anticipated by various other sects. The Buddhists had their forerunner in the Nirganthas, the Ajivikas and others. They all aimed at salvation of the soul in order to get rid of suffering of the world. The man who strove for peace was called the Sramana or the toiler. The Sramana ideal existed before the rise of Buddhism. Subsequently Buddha adopted it and added more attributes to the ideal.