The Bauddha system of philosophy arose out of the teachings of Gautama Buddha, the well-known founder of Buddhism.
Gautama was awakened to a consciousness of human suffering by the sight of disease, old age, death and other miseries, to which man is subject. He spent years in study, penance and meditation to discover the origin of human sufferings and the means to overcome them.
At last he received enlightenment, the result of which was set forth by him in the form of what has come to be known as ‘the four noble truths’ (catvari arya-satyani).
This truth that there is misery, the truth that tiiere is a cause of misery; the truth that there is cessation of misery and the truth there is a path leading to the cessation of misery.
The first truth about the existence of misery is admitted by some form or other. But with his penetrating insight saw that misery is not simply casual; it is ordinarily present in all forms of existence and in all kinds of experience. Even what appears as pleasant is really a Source of pain at bottom.
Regarding the second truth, Buddha’s conclusion is deduced from his analysis of causation. He points out that the existence of everything in the world, material and mental, is caused by some other thing.
There is nothing which is unconditional and self-existent. Nothing is, therefore, permanent in the world. All things are subject to change. Our sufferings are similarly caused by some conditions.
Sufferings depend on birth in this world; Birth again is caused by our desire (tanha or trsna) for the worldly objects. The force of desires drags us down to the world. But our desires can be traced ultimately to our ignorance.
If we had a correct knowledge of the things of the world, understood their transitory and painful nature, there would be no desire for them; birth would then cease and along with it also misery.
As suffering, like other things, depends on some conditions, it must cease when these conditions are removed. This is the third truth about cessation of misery.
The fourth truth about the path that leads to the cessation of misery concerns the control of the conditions that cause misery.
This path is known as the eight-fold noble path as it consists of eight steps, namely, right views, right determination, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right endeavour, right mindfulness and right concentration.
These eight steps remove ignorance and desire, enlighten the mind and bring about perfect equanimity and tranquillity. Thus misery ceases completely and the chance of rebirth also is stopped. The attainment of this state of perfection is nirvana.
The teachings of Buddha are contained in the four noble truths described above. It will appear from this that Buddha himself was not concerned so much with the problems of philosophy as with the practical problem of how human misery can be removed.
He regarded it as a waste of time to discuss metaphysical problems, while man is writhing in misery. But though averse to theoretical speculation he could not avoid philosophical discussions altogether.
Thus we find from early literature, the following theories among his teachings:
(a) all things are conditional; there is nothing that exists by itself.
(b) All things are, therefore, subject to change owing to the change of the conditions on which they depend; nothing is permanent.
(c) There is, therefore, neither any soul nor God nor any other permanent substance.
(d) There is, however, continuity of the present life which generates another life, by the law of karma, just as a tree generates another tree through its seed, and the second continues while the first withers away.
The later followers of Buddha, in India and outside, developed the germs of philosophical theories contained in Buddha’s teachings, and many schools thus came into existence. Of these the four schools that became well known in Indian philosophy may be mentioned here.
The Madhyamika or Sunyavada School according to this, the world is unreal (sunya); mental and non-mental phenomena are all illusory. This view is known as nihilism (sunyavada).
The Yogacara or Vijnanavada School this holds that external objects are unreal. What appears as external is really an idea in the mind. But mind must be admitted to be real.
It is self- contradictory to say that the mind is unreal; for, then, the very thought that mind is unreal stands self-condemned, thought being an activity of the mind. This view is called subjective idealism (vijnanavada).
The Sautrantika School this holds that both the mental and the non-mental are real. If everything that we perceive as external were unreal, then our perception of an object would not depend on anything outside the mind but absolutely on the mind.
But we find that the mind cannot perceive any object, like a tiger at any place it likes. This proves that the idea of the tiger, when we perceive it, depends on a non-mental reality, the tiger.
From the perceptual idea or representation of a tiger in the mind we can infer the existence of its cause, the tiger, outside the mind.
Thus external objects can be inferred to exist outside the mind. This view may be called representationism, or theory of the inferability of external objects (bahyanumeya-vada).
The Vaibhasika School this school agrees with the last on the point that both internal and external objects are real. But it differs from it regarding the way external objects are known.
External objects, according to the Vaibhasikas, are directly perceived and not inferred from their ideas or representations in the mind.
For, if no external object were ever perceived corresponding to any idea, it would not be possible to infer the existence of an external object from any idea.
This view may be called direct realism, because it holds that external objects are perceived directly (bahya-pratyaksa-vada).
Buddhism is divided, on religious matters, into the two well- known schools, Hinayana, flourishing now in the south, in Ceylon, Burma and Siam, and Mahayana, found now in the north, in Tibet, China and Japan.
The first two of the four philosophical schools mentioned above come under the Mahayana and the last two under the Hinayana. The most important religious question on which these two schools differ is: What is the object of nirvana?
The Hinayana holds that nirvana should be sought in order that the individual may put an end to his own misery.
The Mahayana thinks, on the other hand, that the object of nirvana is not to put an end to one’s own misery, but to obtain perfect wisdom with which the liberated can work for the salvation of all beings in misery.