One Buddhist Worldview?

One Buddhist Worldview? March 31, 2017

I’m getting a lot of pushback on my view that there is only ONE Christian worldview. It seems fairly obvious to me that there is just one Christian worldview, so I suspect some bias or prejudice is at work here, although I cannot put my finger on what that bias or prejudice might be. Perhaps we are all just a bit too close to the subject to maintain objectivity.

One way around bias about Christianity is to change the focus to some other religion or ideology, and see whether the same general logic or view makes sense in that context.  In other words, if my logic and point of view makes sense in terms of Buddhism, then that should make my logic and point of view about Christianity more plausible and less objectionable.

So, I will now make a very brief attempt to show that there is just ONE Buddhist worldview:

1. There are three main branches of Buddhism: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. (Religious Literacy, by Stephen Prothero, p.165)

THEREFORE:

2. IF Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Vajrayana Buddhism all share the same worldview, THEN there is just ONE Buddhist worldview.

3. Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Vajrayana Buddhism all share the same worldview.

THEREFORE:

4. There is just ONE Buddhist worldview.

The main sticking point, in analogy with a similar argument about Christianity, is premise (3).  I believe (3) is true, and would argue for it like this:

5. The Four Noble Truths constitute a worldview.

6. Theravada Buddhism includes and accepts The Four Noble Truths.

7. Mahayana Buddhism includes and accepts The Four Noble Truths.

8. Vajrayana Buddhism includes and accepts The Four Noble Truths.

THEREFORE:

3. Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Vajrayana Buddhism all share the same worldview.

This seems like a perfectly good argument to me.

Does anyone deny that The Four Noble Truths constitute a worldview?  I believe that they are a PARADIGM CASE of a worldview, so I don’t see any problem with (5).  So far as I know, all three branches of Buddhism include and accept The Four Noble Truths.  Does anybody think otherwise?  If you reject my view that there is just ONE Buddhist worldview, then please explain to me where the above argument goes astray.

In speaking of a “worldview”, I have in mind a point of view that provides answers to basic worldview-structuring questions:

1. What are the most basic and imporant goals of a human life?
2. What are the most basic and important problems that prevent humans from acheiving those goals?
3. What are the most basic and important resolutions or mitigations of those problems?
4. What are the best ways to implement or utilize those resolutions or mitigations?

Although some people have questioned whether Buddhism is a religion, it seems to me that Buddhism presents a paradigm case of a worldview, namely, The Four Noble Truths:

Buddha’s approach to the problem of life in the Four Noble Truths was essentially that of a therapist. He begins by observing carefully the symptoms which provoke concern. If everything were going smoothly, so smoothly that we noticed ourselves as little as we notice our digestion when it is normal, there would be nothing to worry about and we would have to attend no further to our way of life. But this is not the case. There is less creativeness, more conflict, and more pain than we feel is right. These symptoms Buddha summarizes in his First Noble Truth with the declaration that life is dukkha or out of joint. The next step is diagnosis. Throwing faith and myth and cult to the winds he asks, practically, what is causing these abnormal symptoms? Where is the seat of the infection? What is always present when suffering is present and absent when suffering is absent? The answer is given in the Second Noble Truth; the cause of life’s dislocation is tanha or the drive for private fulfillment. What, then, of prognosis? The Third Noble Truth announces hope; the disease can be cured by overcoming the egoistic drive for separate existence. This brings us to prescription. How is this overcoming to be accomplished? The Fourth Noble Truth provides the answer; the way to the overcoming of self-seeking is through the Eightfold path.

(The Religions of Man, by Huston Smith, p.102-103)

Damien Keown, a scholar of Buddhism, nicely summarizes the logic of The Four Noble Truths:

… the Buddha is likened to a physician who has found a cure for life’s ills.  First he diagnoses the disease, second explains its cause, third determines that a cure exists, and fourth sets out the treatment.

(Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction, p.50)

All worldviews have a similar nature and logical structure. There is at least one Christian worldview, and it has the same sort of logical structure.

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