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Buddhist Belief ‘In’

  • F. J. Hoffman (a1)


Recent articles in Religious Studies have underscored the questions of whether Buddhism presents any empirical doctrines, and whether, if it does, such doctrines are false or vacuous. In what follows I want to sketch an interpretation of Buddhism according to which it does not offer doctrines which are empirically false, on the one hand, or trivially true on the other. In doing so I take my cue from an earlier, and by now classic, paper by H. H. Price. For the exposition of Buddhism I take the Pali Nikāyas, the single most significant collection of texts in the Buddhist tradition. The particular doctrine which is the focus of discussion here is the kammavāda (Pali) or ‘karma view’ of early Indian Buddhism, for it is the focus of much of the recent literature cited above and a doctrine which some have thought amenable to statement in empirical terms.



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page 381 note 1 White, J. E., ‘Is Buddhist karmic theory false?’, Religious Studies XIX, 2 (06 1883), 223–8;Griffiths, Paul J., ‘Notes towards a critique of Buddhist karmic theory’, Religious Studies XVIII, 3 (09 1982), 277–91;Hoffman, Frank J., ‘The Buddhist empiricism thesis’, Religious Studies, XVIII, 2 (06 1882), 151–8.

page 381 note 2 Price, H. H., ‘Belief “in” and belief “that”’ in Mitchell, Basil (ed.), The Philosophy of Religion (Oxford University Press, 1971).

page 381 note 3 ‘Early Buddhism’ may be understood as referring to a set of texts, the five Nikayās or collections.

page 381 note 4 Price, , op. cit. p. 167.

page 381 note 5 Ibid. pp. 147–8.

page 382 note 1 Cited in Upadhyaya, K. N., Early Buddhism and the Bhagavadgītā (Motilal Banarsidas, 1971), p. 366.

page 382 note 2 Sometimes in early Buddhism the term gandhabba is used to indicate the link between lives in rebirth.

page 383 note 1 Jayatilleke, K. N., Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge (Allen and Unwin, 1963), p. 441.

page 383 note 2 Edwards, Paul (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 2 (Macmillan, 1967).

page 383 note 3 Cruise, Henry, ‘Early Buddhism: some recent misconceptions’, Philosophy East and West XXXIII (04 1983), 150.

page 383 note 4 Cruise, , p. 150.

page 383 note 5 Cruise, , p. 151.

page 383 note 6 Cruise, , p. 150.

page 384 note 1 Cruise, , p. 151.

page 384 note 2 Kalupahana, David J., Buddhist Philosophy (University Press of Hawaii, 1976), pp. 27–8;Jayatilleke, , op. cit. p. 428, section (738) and p. 447, section (768).

page 384 note 3 I do not find this idealist interpretation of Buddhism in the early texts in Pali. Majjhima Nikāya 1, 190 discusses normal visual perception as depending, for one thing, on ‘external visible forms entering into the field of vision (bāhirā ca rūpā āpātham āgacchanti, loc. cit.)’ as Upadhyaya, K. N. points out in Early Buddhism and the Bhagavadgītā (Motilal Banarsidas, 1971), p. 212. The analysis of normal visual perception given here does distinguish between the organ of sight and the object of perception in such a way as to amount to a realist theory of normal perception. Contrast this with Mach, Ernst, Contributions to the Analysis of Sensations (Chicago, Open Court, 1897), p. 25, where ‘sensations’ are taken as ‘the elements of the world’.

page 384 note 4 Kalupahana, , Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism (University Press of Hawaii, 1975), p. 185.

page 384 note 5 Majjhima Nikaya I. 426; I. 484–5; I. 429–30.

page 385 note 1 Cruise, , p. 151.

page 385 note 2 Cruise, , p. 151.

page 385 note 3 See fn. I on the first page of this article.

page 386 note 1 White, , p. 228.

page 386 note 2 Winch, Peter, Ethics and Action (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972), p. 41.

page 386 note 3 Winch, , p. 41.

page 386 note 4 Griffiths, , p. 280.

page 387 note 1 Price, H. H., p. 148.

page 387 note 2 An earlier version of this paper was read at Auburn University on 12 November 1983 during the annual meeting of the Alabama Philosophical Society. My thanks go to Bob Greenwood, Delos McKown, and G. Lyn Stevens for their critical comments.


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