Has Buddhism an answer to our problems

by J. P. Pathirana
We are in a whirlpool of problems — problems within you, family problems, social problems, problems with children, parents, in-laws, environmental problems, problems at workplaces, problems within problems and this vicious circle goes on and on engulffed in problems wide and varied and in diversity. Has Buddhism an answer to these problems? Ofcourse it has; if one only studies and follows the Dhamma and apply to each and everyone of these problems as advised by the All Enlightened Buddha them all these problems will melt away from this troubled-world of ours.

The question has been asked, how behaviourism can be made compatible with the facts of hallucination or delusion of self as an entity or soul is the very behaviour; be it in lust, hate or ignorance. For, all behaviour, which is self-expression, self-expansion and hence self-delusion is entirely shaped by that basic conception of a separate, isolated, independent entity, which in its isolation creates opposition, struggle and conflict. Thus, a behaviour which is not based on this self-hallucination would not be an attempt at self-expansion, but would be a direct answer to an immediate change to action, a response based on the understanding of the necessity of action, without projection into a possible, future result. In sleep, this self-consciousness which controls behaviour while awake is mostly absent, except perhaps for strong habit-formations which tend to conform even unconsciously. It is in sleep, therefore, that dreams to a great extent free from social restrictions and inhibitions. And so it is to dreams that psychiarists turn for revelation of the unconscious, that is true process of the individual, the reality hidden under the actuality. That is also the essence of Buddhist philosophy, which even in its ethical doctrines is more psychology, than a religion. Now, these biological facts may be quite normal in the sense of conforming to accepted standards. Thus, the physical pain of an expectant mother in childbirth is considered normal although it is not improbable that most of such pains are caused by abnormal deviation from natural living by the human species in the animal kingdom.

Examine the causes

Buddhism, does not advocate a reversion to the ancestral type, which at any rate would take millions of years of involution as it has taken to evolve in time. And, thus, many facts of existence may be taken as normal in the sense standardisation. But this rule of standardisation should not be carried too far, to the point of abnormality becoming the standard of normal life, especially when the acceptance of those standards would involve such serious conflicts which would threaten to disorganise the natural flow of existence. The mere sight of a policeman on the Campus may result in a riot among the students. There is no provocation, there is nothing personal in their outburst, but there is reaction against authority, because authority stands for domination.

Domination in an excessive degree, such as Hitler’s domineering influence over his youth movement, may find its source in a very small way in a domineering parent. To escape get together in gangs. But they must have their leader too, one with strength of character, perhaps, and with real qualities of leadership. We should not stop at this explanation, but examine their causes. Why do some try to break with convention and why do others cling to tradition? This is the type of psycho-analysis which was formulated in the teachings of the Buddha more than twenty five centuries ago before Freud began to formulate theories — have been followed up, enlarged, deepened, contradicted, reversed, and still they are based upon on sources or evidence which frequently do not go beyond clinical data. Experimental methods are always difficult and sometimes impossible. For, it would not be ethically correct to test one’s hypothesis regarding the cause of mental aberration by inducing similar cause in a normal being, in the expectation of learning whether a similar abnormal mental state would arise as a result of that inducement. But certain observations are so general in their recurrence that a working hypothesis could be established. And then, if on the basis of such working hypothesis are analysed and found to be in agreement, the case may be converted to law. For instance, one may wish to enquire into the reason of a certian behaviour, or why a certain person reacts in a peculiar way. Behaviour, which is a reaction to environment, may then explain much of the background of such reaction, if generalisations are found to be constant. Or one may approach the problem from the other side: what would the natural or rational or logical reaction be under definite conditions or influence? If then the facts corroborates the predicted results of the analysis, it would have greater scientific significance, it being a case of deduction rather than induction. Let us take an example: Greed reflects a psychological need. This conclusion is based on the following findings which we need to develop into greater details, as they are quite obvious even to an untrained mind.

(i) There would be no greed, if there were no need, as both belong to the same category of want, which is essentially absence of something.

(ii) Sometimes greed persists after physical needs have been satisfied. A person is thirsty and drinks till satisfied, but there remains a desire to drink, which is now more a physical necessity, and which, therefore represents a psychological need.

(iii) Therefore, greed is a desire for satisfaction of a psychological need.

The analysis of greed, however would not teach us very much, unless we can learn the reasons of this search for the satisfaction of a psychological need. What need can there be for the mind to wish for satisfaction, once the physical need has been satisfied? Now we are not concerned any more about any particular desire for satisfaction which is only in the mind, but with the psychological question: Why should a desire in the mind persist after that desire in the body has been satisfied?

It is obvious to satisfy some other kind of desire which is essentially mental and which therefore cannot be drinking, or smoking or other sense-satisfaction. Still, it is a desire to continue that action. The satisfaction, therefore, is not derived from the actual performance of that action, but from its continuance. And, thus the psychological motive of greed is the satisfaction derived from the experience of continuation. Whereas the bodily senses are satisfied with the fulfilment of their physical needs, the mind will not be satisfied with anything less than continuation. Why should that be? And has Buddhism an answer?

Dependent origination

We have observed earlier that there would be no greed, if there were no need. Then we saw that the physical need formed the basis for the arising of greed, as it is said in the Paticca-samuppada, the doctrine of independent origination. All this can be found in this teaching of the Buddha, which is perfect in its origin, perfect in its development and perfect in its application to all problems faced by mankind. In psychoanalysis the mental process is shown to be a reception of senses (vedana), a perception of reaction (sanna), a conception of ideas (sankhara), all of them forms of capturing the object needed for the continuation of "I", which is born in self-consciousness (vinnana). It is understanding that this process of grasping is nothing but a process (which has therefore no essence, no reality) that the process may continue without grasping. But, the experience to live without self is never attempted: for fear, fear presents a total release of habitual inhibition.

To be without a background of the past, without a security for the future, means for most of us fear in the present, which prevents us to analyse the situation to find out whether there is any cause for fear at all. It is fear which prevents us to abandon the values of the past, even when they seem useless. It is fear that preventsin to step out into the unknown future, because we prefer the known strife to the insecurity of the unknown. And so, with full understanding, which is comprehension, that this ego is but a camouflage to protect that senseless desire for continuation of the impermanent, a shield, not more than a shadow, to protect that insane projection of an individual process of action and reaction, a desguise and a covering-up of the void of an empty process — with this complete comprehension and realisation it becomes impossible to build up resistence, to form an opposition and to live in isolation.

Thus, the Teaching of the Buddha that all is void of self, demloishes the foundation of the entire stronghold of self-delusion, and then in the absence of self, there is no more conflict, but the ending of strife, the cessation of becoming, which is the ultimate goal and the teaching of the Dhamma heralds the all embracing solution to any problem that is faced by mankind and if one truly applies as a solution to the problems faced; it will accrue marvellous results and this viclious circle of problems within problems will be totally terminated.