August 30, 2010

What Buddha Doesn't Know.

There are traditionally 14 questions posed to the Buddha to which he either did not know the answer, or felt that we did not need to know the answer. They are rather interesting questions - when each was asked, he remained completely silent, never even acknowledging the question.

The idea that Buddha simply did not know the answers is interesting - but most likely false. More probable is that he felt we did not need to know these facts, and that intellectually wondering about them would only get us trapped in our own thoughts.

Instead of intellectual speculation, the Buddha focused on personal enlightenment and experience. The questions on which he was mum essentially break into four categories: Is the universe eternal in time? Is the universe finite in space? Is the soul material? Is Buddha eternal?

It's worthwhile to consider why he did not answer these questions and what the repercussions of his silence were: they left much of the theology up to his followers. For that reason, some view Buddha as a teacher and others as a god. Some view the soul as divine, others as transient. Some believe in the beginning was everything, and others believe in the beginning was nothing.

The 14 Unanswerable Questions:
  1. Is the universe eternal?
  2. Is the universe transient?
  3. Is the universe both eternal and transient?
  4. Is the universe neither eternal nor transient?
  5. Is the universe finite?
  6. Is the universe infinite?
  7. Is the universe both finite and infinite?
  8. Is the universe neither finite nor infinite?
  9. Is the soul identical with the material body?
  10. Is the soul different from the material body?
  11. Does the Buddha exist after death?
  12. Does the Buddha perish after death?
  13. Does the Buddha both exist and perish after death?
  14. Does the Buddha neither exist nor perish after death?