The Buddha’s method

I have to admit that on first encounter the early Buddhist texts struck me as abstruse and disconnected, and that – given their antiquity and obscure history – I fully expected them to remain so. With further engagement over time, however, I was delighted to discover a brilliant, methodical and consistent mind shining through those profound teachings and now marvel at how well time has treated these ancient texts. Among other things, I recognized the coherence of the Buddha’s methodology.

Every field of at least intellectual interest sets parameters for what it investigates and how it investigates it. We’ve had the scientific method since the seventeenth century that bounces between empirical discovery/verification of objective data, and hypothesis formation. Mathematics, art criticism, philosophy, law music, psychology and so on have methods appropriate to their fields, sometime explicitly stated, sometimes with an implicit culturally sustained understanding. The characteristic method reflects, but also shapes, the character of the respective field, by setting parameters on its scope of concern and on its means of explanation. It is the same with the Buddhadhamma

The Buddha’s method breaks down into four recognizable parameters, each of which the Buddha articulates explicitly and carefully. Bringing them together and then pointing out how they logically cohere is the task of the current paper. The parameters of the Buddha’s method are:

• Practicality. The Buddhadhamma serves to support practice and practice serves to bring benefit. What lies beyond that has little place in the Buddhadhamma.

• Subjectivity. The realm of Buddhadhamma, its practice and its benefit is the world as we experience it. Underlying mechanisms that stand behind our experience have a marginal role in Buddhadhamma.

• Insubstantiality. What we presume experientially to be true or to exist “out there” independently of our cognition of it is of dubious validity.

• Conditionality. Conditional relations constitute a privileged way to explain the world meaningfully without resort to underlying mechanisms.

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