Article/Publication Details

Rationalism and Empiricism in Buddhist Canon

(Original title: Racionalizmus a empirizmus buddhistického kánonu)
Filozofia, 2012, vol. 67, No 1, pp. 72-82.
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Abstract

The article offers a critical appraisal of the modernist claim that the Buddha’s teaching (P. Dhamma) as recorded in the Pāli Canon has rational and empirical character thereby meeting the criteria of scientific knowledge valid from the nineteenth century onwards. Buddhist modernism originated in the middle of the nineteenth century as a reaction to both Western science and religion which – in hands of colonial powers – challenged Buddhism as an instrument legitimizing indi- genous political systems and offering a relevant worldview. Many of the arguments introduced by these early reformers are used by Buddhist and Western modernists even nowadays. The author argues that while formalization of the polemical discussion and rational argumentation played an important role in the maintaining further and spreading of the Dhamma and though personal “experience” is presented in the Pāli Canon as a sole means legitimizing the teacher’s activity, these aspects are actually set in a context (e.g. uncritical acceptance of traditional philosophical concepts or “verification” of the teaching through alternations of consciousness) which prevents the Dhamma to be attributed the characteristics claimed by modernists.

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