A Buddhist was trying to point out to a sceptic the superiority of Buddhism, as suitable for a rational person. “In religions, there is always a dogma, which has to be believed or at least subscribed to. In Buddhism there is no such requirement. The Buddha simply presented his view and asked listeners to apply their own reason: if it seemed reasonable to them, they should adopt it.”
The sceptic produced an unexpected rejoinder. “As a matter of fact, the Buddhist presentation contains a fallacy which religions in general do not suffer from. The fallacy is this: the Buddha’s conclusion was that the mind of the ordinary man is stained and swayed by passion and delusion, and therefore incapable of seeing the truth. So far, it is undeniably the fact. In Buddhist practise, there is a long process of purifying the mind before truth is realized. And yet, there is the Buddha telling people who have never done the practise to use their reason to judge his doctrine! On his own showing, that unpurified reason will be unable to judge between truth and falsehood. It will give him a doubtful report every time. That’s why it would be more reasonable to believe dogmas, which at least claim to come from a divine source of truth.
“Your Buddhism is like handing a camel-hair brush to someone whose eyes are full of grit, and telling him to use it to get the grit out. The eye itself, which is necessary to the operation, is the very thing which is impaired. The only reasonable thing for such a patient, nearly blind himself, is to find someone else to get his eyes clean. It is the same with perception of ultimate truth: surely you see that?”
The Buddhist was bewildered and did not know what to say. That evening he asked his teacher, who said, “I have told you in the past not to argue with combative sceptics. Such debates are fruitless and do not lead to truth; they go on endlessly.”
“But it seems to me that this point was reasonable, as he said it was. Surely we need to know how to meet this sort of doubt?”
“It can be met, but to meet it gives no spiritual satisfaction; it is simply a matter of words. For instance, he was admitting the uncertainty of reason in order to attack the Buddha.
“The Buddha used to point out that his own conclusions could be confirmed by anyone through practise. The real test is experience. And as a matter of fact true religions all say the same thing: their statements are not meant to be mere dogmas blindly or fanatically accepted. I’ve seen in the Upanishad called Brihadaranyaka, which is much older than the Buddha’s time, how first an ancient sage’s experience of truth is described. He was already long before 600 BC. Then it adds, ‘And to this day, it is the same for whoever knows, in like manner.’ Over a thousand years after that, the great philosopher-yogi of India confirmed, ‘On this point, there is no difference between the spiritual giants of the past and the little people of today.’
“All can realize truth in the same way. But truth is not weakened, or strengthened, by clever debating points.”