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The Metaphysics of Buddha

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The primary and fundamental question of all philosophy and religion is this: "What am I?" not: "What is the world?" What the world is, ultimately interests man only in so far as it is related to himself and must therefore be taken into account in any attempted solution of the first fundamental question. But the question, "What am I?" has always been answered by the immense majority of men thus: "I am body and soul" - under the latter concept being understood the willing and cognizing principle within us, which, in contrast to the body, is supposed to be immortal. This view of the average man has been left behind by the great leaders in religion and philosophy, inasmuch as they have held the essence of man to consist exclusively in the faculties of willing and cognizing, holding, therefore, the soul to consist of these functions and declaring the body to be only an inessential addition to this same soul. A higher definition of our essence will nowhere in the world be found outside the realm of the Buddha. Even in the Upanishads, which in their grandeur come nearest to the doctrine of the Buddha, our essence is defined as "being, bliss, and thought."

Such definitions were reached thought the idea that the essence of man ought to consist at all events in one of his cognizable qualities, more especially in his most noble and exalted qualities. Of course this presupposition has especially been made the starting-point by all the smaller minds, particularly by those in whom is lost even the primary consciousness proclaimed also by Spinoza, the Jew, when he says: "We feel and experience that we are eternal." But to these small minds the uniform definition of what constitutes the essence of a human being, formed a mighty weapon against those greater ones who, being such, without exception teach that our essence, in one form or another, is indestructible...

...Who would venture merely to make the statement that man consists neither in his corporeal nor in his mental qualities, and therefore is nothing at all? Would not such a man declare himself to be a madman, in declaring something not to exist which quite evidently does exist, namely, himself? Would he not be turning upside down all words and conceptions, and converting them to their contrary? What reasonable man would dare to such a thing?

Nevertheless, there is one who has ventured to do this, who has really inverted all words and conceptions and converted them to their contrary. For example, he declares to be unwholesome what has always been thought to be wholesome and salutary; he designates as ugly what has always been looked upon as beautiful; he defines as woe what from all time has been called happiness. He even calls that the non-existing which , ever since man existed has been called the existing; and that which all man have always called nothing he decides to be the highest reality, not merely in appearance. and by sophistical casuistry, but in perfect earnest, in the literal sense of the words and "in accordance with actuality." It is clear, that such a man, if he is wrong, stands out as the greatest fool the world has ever seen. But if, against all apparent possibility, he should turn out to be right, then he ought to be hailed as the greatest genius ever born on earth. For then he would verily appear as the only reasonable man of the whole human specie. And indeed he regards himself as such, for he has further the unparalleled audacity to declare all men, himself and his followers only excepted, to be mentally ill, to be insane. This unique man was the Indian mendicant monk, Siddhartha Gautama who in consequence of this his standpoint just set forth, called himself Buddha, the Awakened One, he who has awakened from the dream of life to reality as it is.

He says: You want to know what you really are, what in you constitutes your essence, that means, you wish to know the substratum lying at the basis of what you call your I, by which word you mean precisely that wherein you at bottom consist. You think it self-evident that this your I must consist of something which you cognize within yourself. In this way you come to designate the qualities with which you see yourself endowed, as the substratum of the I-concept, foremost of all, your sensation, perception, and thinking. But how now, if your self-evident presupposition, that you must consist of something cognizable, were false, if there were also something incognizable in you, which was your real essence; if further, this your incognizable, but real essence were removed from the jurisdiction of the laws of arising and passing away, and if I could prove all this to you with compelling logic, nay, with palpable, visible evidence? Of course, you shake your head and think this entirely incognizable to be contradictory in itself, as it is surely a contradiction to desire to ascertain something incognizable by means of cognition. But this is not at all what is meant. For the reality of this finally incognizable thing stands fixed from the very beginning, as primary , preeminent fact. It is simply your own reality, the reality of that which you call your peculiar essence, your I, this, the most immediate fact of consciousness there can ever be. What is in question is rather only this: Whether with your cognitive you are able to grasp your peculiar essence as such apart from its reality. That is to say, whether this your faculty of cognition is able to penetrate beneath into the depths of your own real essence; or, in other words, how far the light of your cognition reaches in a certain direction, to wit, precisely in the direction of that in which you are objectively absorbed. And this, surely, is no transcendental realm for your cognitive faculty; on the contrary, it is again a primary function of cognition to recognize its own limits. Why, then, do you appose my proposal, first of all, to fix these limits of cognition? Did not your own Kant too undertake this task, to whom you could not declare yourselves sufficiently thankful for thereby freeing you from all false metaphysics? Certainly, I very well know the reason why you are opposed to me and my doctrine. The consequences resulting from my fixing the limit of cognition, together with my judgment of what is cognizable, are displeasing to your will, and therefore, on this ground, my doctrine is not allowed to be true. But is not such a stand point the very opposite of all true science? Is it not, in fact, childish to want something not to be true, when quite obviously it is true?

Of course, I am bound to offer you the proof of the evident correctness of my fixing of the boundaries of cognition, the more so, as I may thus be able to cure you of the extravagant views of your Kant. Hearken! Your Kant wanted to derive the boundaries of cognition from the nature of the process of cognition itself. But this undertaking is quite impossible. Whoever should undertake such a thing, to begin with, ought to have developed his own faculty of cognition to the highest point possible, or he will infallibly declare the boundaries set to his own individual cognition in consequence of his own limited development to be the immanent boundaries of cognition itself, as is proven precisely in the case of your Kant. But have you got any other great thinker who claims for himself to have climbed to the summit of all possible development of cognition? Apart from this, however, it must be just as impossible to determine accurately the boundaries of cognition from its own structure, as it is impossible to determine the strength of the eyes from a mere physiological examination of the eyes themselves, or the distance covered by a telescope by a mere physical and chemical examination of its lenses. Everybody knows, that this is practically, and therefore really, impossible, but that an incontestable and certain determination of the strength of our eyes or of the distance covered by a telescope can only be arrived at by fixing the eyes or the telescope upon a distant, external object, and then examining, if, and to what degree, this object is seized by the eyes or bu the telescope. Only thus, by means of a practical test, do the boundaries of our cognition permit of being determined with absolute certainty. Well then! It is in this way that I, the Indian mendicant monk, am going to ascertain, if, by means of our faculty of cognition, we are able to penetrate to our real self. Of course, this method of determining the boundaries of our cognition opens up an immense difficulty: When it is a question of making out a quite definite object and of identifying it as such, then at least one infallible characteristic mark of it must be known. For otherwise, the possibility is never excluded, that a wrong object may be taken as the one sought for. If I am looking for gold, I must know at least one specific characteristic mark of gold, if I do not want to run the risk of tanking any copper or brass I may hit upon for the gold I am in search of.Thus also as regards my I, as regards that in which, in the end, I am completely subsumed, at least one infallible characteristic mark must be known, if I am to be able successfully to examine the objects of my cognition as to their identity with my I, if I do not want to run the risk of taking something for my I which in reality is not my I, be it that it has really nothing at all to do with my I, be it that is only an inessential addition to my I.

Fortunately, the relation between our I and our faculty of cognition is such, that in every case this indispensable criterion may be obtained. Indeed, this criterion, quite as much as the reality of our I, is again an immediate fact of consciousness, which, precisely as such, requires no proof, nay, is not at all capable of such a thing; it can only be immediately experienced. If I see a passing train, I know that this train has certainly nothing to do with my essence. Why not? Because I was here before the train came near me, and because I am still here after it has thundered past me. What only reaches me after I have long been here, and the again vanishes from me, so that I remain, cannot have anything to do with my essence. If the iron money-chest I had bought to keep my money in, is stolen from me , this theft unquestionably has taken away nothing belonging to my essence. For the loss of the money-chest causes suffering to me for a long time after it has been committed. In these simple facts in contained the long sought-for and infallible criterion for our I. My I cannot possibly consist in what I behold perish, and afterwards recognize to have vanished, yea, from the total loss of which I still suffer. Myself in my real essence I have therefore by means of my cognition failed to find in any case, so long as to this my cognition those objects alone present themselves, the vanishing of which I observe, and by the loss of which I suffer. On the contrary, only an object appearing before my cognition might be regarded as my real I, which showed itself to this cognition as remaining always the same for as long as this cognition might last and as often as it might repeat itself, as surely as at the same time I know myself - again an immediate fact of consciousness- to be the cognizing subject, which, itself unmoved by everything, beholds life together with all its vicissitudes passing before itself: I was born, I was a boy, I was a youth, I am a man, I shall be an old man, I shall leave my body in death, being always the same indivisible I.

In this manner the Buddha first fixed the special object which he wished to grasp, to comprehend, to embrace with his cognition.