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Buddhist Conceptions
Philosophy Questions & Answers

Buddhist Conceptions

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Question: Certain schools of thought, namely Buddhism, put forward the idea of momentariness. The flow of events gives rise to a continuum of consciousness, but this continuum is observed by a subtle level of mind, and not by a witness like the ātman/soul from an underlying substratum. Schools such as the Gelugpa tradition state that there is a transference of information/memory from one moment to the next, thus accounting for memory and saṁskāras. Similarly, science-based proponents put forward the idea that information/memory etc. is transferred via DNA/RNA, thereby also denying the existence of an eternal individuated ātman/soul that possesses the qualities of agency, knowingness etc.

I believe in Nyāya there is a pūrva-pakṣa that things must exist in more than one moment for transference and change to take place. But that does not seem to dispel this idea.

What is the Gauḍīya refutation to this idea of transference, that denies the existence and necessity of the ātman?

Answer: The most basic principle accepted by all Vedāntists is that the observer is distinct from the observed; and that only a person who has experienced something can remember it. 

The transfer of information theory does not account for this. For example, suppose there is a person named Ramadasa. He dies and after his death, his bank account is automatically transferred into the name of his son. But his son does not know this. For all practical purposes, the son cannot use the money. Now imagine that when the son dies, his bank account is also transferred into his own son’s name. And this continues for every descendent of Ramadasa. In this example, the money is transferred to the next generation, but it cannot be utilized because the person into whose name the money is transferred is not aware of the transfer. From this example, you can understand that if information is transferred from one moment to another, then this information would not serve any purpose unless there is an agent, who can use the information. The agent has to be distinct from the information to make use of it.

Moreover, in the theory of momentariness, karma makes no sense because there is no fixed agent. It is illogical that the fruit of an action performed by one agent is experienced by another agent. We all have the subjective experience that we enjoy the fruits of action done in the past. Such a subjective feeling is not possible if the subject is changing at every moment.

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī refutes the Buddhist idea in Tattva Sandarbha. Please refer to that for more details.

Question: Some Buddhist schools say that memory, experience, etc. are all contained within the content of information that is passed via transference, from moment to moment, which then gives rise to a feeling of there being an observer; however, an observer does not actually exist. Only the sensation of one’s being there is present. Whatever memory, experience, etc. was transferred to the next moment is contained within what is available at this moment. This is how they explain memory/observation.

Answer: My question is: What is the proof of this? What is the proof that the observer actually does not exist? It is our own experience that we experience things. Can we deny our own experience of being the observer? We have a very distinct feeling of the experiencer and the experience. Can anyone deny that? If there is no actual observer, then from where does this feeling come and why does it exist? Who is monitoring the transference of the memory? Is it automatic? You can give the example of a smart computer or a robot who can store memory and have a sense of identity. But this is nothing but an imitation of a human mind generated by a human mind. It does not answer my question about my subjective feeling of being different from my experience. A computer or robot does not have that feeling. It can talk like us because it has been programed to do so.

All these questions need to be answered. 



1 Comment

  • Parikshit Chauhan March 1, 2021

    Buddha has been falsely framed as a propounder of the anātmā doctrine, that there is no distinction ever-present consciousness. A good number of those in academia like to construct stories to come up with fictitious dissertations, in an attempt to manufacture something scandalous and thus exciting. Aryan Invasion fiction is another example of this. The name of Buddha got attached with such apa-siddhāntas as happened with Kapila of Samkhya — that Kapila denied existence of Ishvara. In fact, Kapila acknowledges Ishvara.

    That the Buddha propounded the anātmā doctrine cannot be conclusively established from the literature supposedly authored during his time. He learned from Sāmkhya teachers and his understanding was rooted in Upanishadic wisdom. Anātmā means “who you actually are is different from the mind-body complex”; from what you see in the mirror, from what you think you are.

    Those who cannot read Sanskrit and rely on English translations develop misconceptions regarding Indian philosophies, as most books on Indian philosophy were commissioned during the British rule and are filled with wrong translations. Later Indian historians or philosophers accepted those faulty translations as standard material. Indian philosophy departments in colleges are only partly representing the truth about Indian thoughts.

    The vastness and depth of India thought is impossible to capture unless at least a lifetime is devoted exclusively to it. Short notes, summaries, and conferences at best can give some vrttis to inspect and ponder over.

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