Buddhism is the First and the Last Scientific Religion of the World

Buddha, the Founder of Buddhism

by Jayaram V

Summary: This essay explains the uniqueness of the concept of Anatta, why Buddhism is the first and the last, scientific religion of the world, and why Buddha is a scientist cum prophet.

Buddhism does not hold that the world is an illusion but believes that there is nothing permanent about existence. Everything is in a flux, and beings are a part of it. The Buddha did not believe in transcendental reality or in the existence of an eternal soul. Beings have no souls. They have minds and bodies. Therefore, salvation has to be found within that realm. The world is devoid of a permanent reality (God). So are the beings. This is known as Anatta (Anātma) or the “not-self” concept.

A Buddhist is not a soulless person. The monks are full of warmth, compassion, friendliness and empathy for the suffering of others. They just do not believe that they are souls who came from a different planet, but mere mortals who are subject to birth, death, aging and sickness. The monks may be detached from life, but they never take their focus away from it because they know that the possibility of salvation is here and now.

To understand Anatta, you have to start from the perspective of Hinduism and Jainism because both believe in the existence of souls and their eternal nature. Hinduism also believes in the existence of the eternal, Supreme Self, God or Isvara, whereas Jainism believes in the existence of omniscient and perfect souls and divine souls (jinas and devas) but not God. When Gautama was born, these two were the predominant religions of the subcontinent, and whatever religious knowledge he gained was probably from their teachings only.

The Anatta concept brought a whole new dimension of thought process into the religious and spiritual practices and approaches of ancient India. Both Hinduism and Jainism encouraged people to shun the world and focus upon the transcendental reality to achieve liberation. For the Buddha, it was logically a meaningless effort, since the Self neither suffered nor caused suffering nor participated in the suffering. It was the beings who suffered and it was they who needed the solution or relief from it. Therefore, for him it made no sense to look for some eternal, and physically or mentally unknowable Self to avoid earthly suffering.

Instead he used commonsense and approached the whole problem of suffering from the rational perspective, as an enlightened and intelligent human being would. First, he focused his attention on the objective reality or the not-self reality, which he could experience to ascertain the causes of suffering. Having determined the causes, he used his discerning wisdom (buddhi) to find right solutions to end it. Thus, Buddhism is a religion of the mind and body, not of the soul. It relies upon pure intelligence or the wisdom of the thinking mind (buddhi) to achieve Nirvana, not upon divine intervention or the light of the soul.

For the Buddha, Anatta encompassed the whole existence. Everything that was devoid of any soul constituted the Anatta. This Anatta was impermanent, unstable and the source of all suffering. In that only one could find the problem as well the solution. He held that upon achieving Nirvana, beings did not escape into an eternal reality, but into an indeterminate nothingness. Since it was beyond empirical experience and no one could mentally explain what it was, the wisest thing to do was not to speculate upon the state of Nirvana or draw any conclusions about it, but just leave it at that.

Thus, in Buddhism Anatta is not just about the absence of eternal souls. It is about the reality itself. The whole reality, which we experience in the mind and through the senses, is Anatta. It is existence itself. By paying attention and mindfully knowing that you are a part of it and your suffering arises in it due to your desires and actions and due its impermanent and unstable nature, you must practice detachment, renunciation, equanimity, sameness to become impervious to it. Since actions produce karma and karma causes suffering and the continuation of suffering, you must also engage in right actions, with discernment, to avoid the fruit of negative karma.

The Buddha’s approach was very logical and methodical. There was nothing supernatural or ethereal about it. He approached the problem of suffering and the means to Nirvana with open eyes. Anyone with commonsense could see where he was leading his followers. Firstly, he told them not to look for any eternal reality, for there was none. Secondly, he advised them to examine the perceptual reality, or the Anatta reality, which they could experience through their minds and senses and see how they were causing suffering to themselves. Thirdly, he assured them that they could resolve their suffering if they avoided all the causes that produced the suffering and lived the right way or the intelligent way, with discerning wisdom.

One can see that Buddhism is a scientific religion, a practical religion and a rational religion, with its emphasis upon facts rather than beliefs, and upon practice and application rather than theory and speculation. Its approach is similar to that of the modern psychology, learning through observation and experimentation. Its methods are scientific and rational, and it relies upon human wisdom rather than divine wisdom.

The followers are not obliged to believe in anyone or anything but become their own Buddhas, by ascertaining facts through pure observation and become wiser in the process. They have to find truth the hard way, by the ascetic effort, through trial and error, and by learning from their failures and successes, feelings and emotions, with an open mind and without suppressing anything or denying anything for the sake of dogma.

On the path of Nirvana, they are advised to rely upon intelligence, observation, learning and wisdom rather than blind beliefs or superstition. The Buddha is perhaps the first and the last scientist cum prophet in the history of the world, who discouraged empty speculation upon inconsequential subjects and confined his teachings and focus upon what could be observed, understood, realized and resolved. He taught provable truths in the name of Dharma and advised everyone to test them and prove them by themselves. His teachings do not rely upon dogmatic, blind beliefs, but upon experiential, perceptual and cognitive validation within the realm of the mind and the senses.

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