O bhikshus and wise men, just as a goldsmith would test his gold by burning, cutting, and rubbing it, so you must examine my words and accept them, but not merely out of reverence for me.1Gandavyuha Sutra
Lately, I’ve been drawn to Buddha. Not the philosophy2, rather a foot deeper, something about the essence of the man himself. What truly defines Buddha? What is calling out to me?
Every depiction of Buddha, whether it be paintings, sculptures or murals, there is a recurring element that remains unchanged. An undeniable serenity, a profound sense of tranquillity that transcends his laughter, apathy and even melancholy. This is explicitly symbolized by the radiant circle portrayed around his head.
Buddha, in the literal sense, means ‘the one who is awake’. It is through this awakening that Siddhartha transforms, and becomes the Buddha. Could this awakeness be the metaphysical essence, the very source of the radiant allure the beckons me?
What triggered Siddhartha’s transformation? What exactly does Buddha awaken to? Truth, and the first of them which says – Life is suffering. However, one wonder if Buddha succumbed to slumber after discovering this truth alone. The remaining truths reveal that the origin of suffering is desire. Dukkha, the Sanskrit term for suffering, can be eradicated through the cessation of desires. Thus, the four noble truths culminate.
A Meditative State of Being – that’s how I can best describe the man. But was Buddha, paradoxically, in a true meditative state? What is the meditative state, the awakened condition, if not an acceptance of all that unfolds, including suffering? Maybe Buddha, momentarily, was the awaken one, but as men before and after him, failed to fully embody it3.
Undoubtedly, Buddha stands as one of the few ascetics who came closest to truth. However, I still remain dissatisfied. What if I fashioned a new Buddha out of myself, forged on the essence that calls to me, and create a new idol?
Envision a new Buddha – the Non-Buddha. An embodiment that would push the essence of Buddha to its completion, discarding the cessation of suffering altogether, in favour of its acceptance. For Buddha, eliminating suffering is sought through the Middle Path – a balanced approach, avoiding the two extremes of indulgence in sensual pleasures and harsh asceticism. Interestingly similar to Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean.
Aristotle’s concept of virtue finds its place between two extremes – one of deficiency and the other of excess. Courage, as an example, resides between the deficiency of fear and the excess of recklessness. Perhaps a parallel lies between the Acceptance represented by the new idol and the nature of the virtuous man.
Virtue is an excellent trait of individual character4. In virtue ethics, it is posited that humans possess innate qualities such as honesty and courage, which, when cultivated and practices, contribute to their pursuit of eudaimonia, often translate to ‘wellbeing’ or ‘flourishing’. This represents a moral claim, one that speaks to the idea of the common good.
Vice, in contrast, encompasses anything that has the potential to impede or disrupt ethical action. Including qualities like fear, insecurity, jealousy – to name a few. Then, virtue can be understood as the quality of triumphing over the vice, acting inspite its presence. While there can be situations where individual acts with little vice hinderance, such as an experienced orator, that ability is acquire through repeatedly overcoming vices, repeatedly strengthening the virtue, rendering it more potent than the vice itself.
Indeed, vice serves as a catalyst for strengthening virtue. Virtue grows in the face of ethical action that progressively becomes more challenging. And it is the presence of the vice that contributes to this difficulty. When one chooses tasks that encompass sufficient vice, such that it challenges virtue, it requires virtue to evolve as to overcome the vice.
The concept of negative and indefinite judgments in Kant’s philosophy comes to mind. Negative judgments negate the predicate, while indefinite judgments affirm the non-predicate. Consider the classic example of zombies. A creature can be classified as either alive, dead, or a zombie (i.e., the undead). In a similar vein, if vice is likened to a negative judgment, then virtue can be seen as affirming the non-predicate. Virtue is not the absence of vice, but something that transcends it.
Thus, we have the Non-Buddha. One that accepts and affirms, to go over and beyond. The virtuous, in it’s purest sense.
- Noticed an interesting similarity from the following excerpt from Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
But what matters Zarathustra? You are my believers – but what matter all believers? You had not yet sought yourselves; and you found me. Thus do all believers; therefore all faith amounts to so little.
- Something I reject myself. (refer Krishna, The Active Monk (2023) https://niranjankrishna.in/2023/05/20/the-active-monk/)
- Similar to the stoics.
In the latter[stoicism], we aim not to experience the full range of human emotions and instead float languidly in a peaceful sea of feelgood nothingness.
Durrant, 3 reasons not to be a Stoic (but try Nietzsche instead (2023) https://theconversation.com/3-reasons-not-to-be-a-stoic-but-try-nietzsche-instead-198307
- Hursthouse, Rosalind and Glen Pettigrove, “Virtue Ethics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2022 Edition), Edward N. Zalta & Uri Nodelman (eds.), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-virtue/
- It is worth noting that I advocate for a morality based on the existence of a common set of ethical traits among humans, but here we are exploring a universal argument that applies more broadly.
- Refer to Krishna, Meaning and Meta-Goals (2023) https://niranjankrishna.in/2023/03/07/meaning-and-meta-goals/