Author Topic: 14 unanswerable questions  (Read 22753 times)

Q

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14 unanswerable questions
« on: August 17, 2012, 03:03:54 PM »
The phrase "fourteen unanswerable questions" (Avyakrta in Sanskrit), in Buddhism, refers to fourteen common philosophical questions that Buddha refused to answer, according to Buddhist Sanskrit texts. Pali texts give only ten.

Fourteen questions

Questions referring to the world: concerning the existence of the world in time
*Is the world eternal?
*or not?
*or both?
*or neither?
Pali texts omit "both" and "neither".

Questions referring to the world: concerning the existence of the world in space
*Is the world finite?
*or not?
*or both?
*or neither?
Pali texts omit "both" and "neither".

Questions referring to personal experience
*Is the self identical with the body?
*or is it different from the body?

Questions referring to life after death
*Does the Tathagata exist after death?
*or not?
*or both?
*or neither?

Buddha's answer to the questions, according to the scriptures

The Buddha remained silent when asked these fourteen questions. He described them as a net and refused to be drawn into such a net of theories, speculations, and dogmas. He said that it was because he was free of bondage to all theories and dogmas that he had attained liberation. Such speculations, he said, are attended by fever, unease, bewilderment, and suffering, and it is by freeing oneself of them that one achieves liberation.
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I read and extracted this from wikipedia. I thought it was rather interesting that there are 14 questions that the Buddha didn't or refused to answer.

In your opinion, why did the Buddha refused to answer this 14 questions. In fact, what is your opinion about these questions and how answering or not answering it will help us in our spiritual growth?

Midakpa

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Re: 14 unanswerable questions
« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2012, 12:20:29 PM »
The Buddha remained silent because of 2 reasons: (1) when the questioner himself would not be able to understand the real significance of the answer to his question, and (2) when the questions posed to Him was wrong. In the former, the answer would be too profound for the questioner to understand; in the latter, the questions were wrongly put. In these cases, the Buddha kept noble silence.

There were a few occasions when the Buddha remained silent. Some of the questions to which the Buddha remained silent are mentioned in Q's post.

The Buddha observed silence because He knew that it would be impossible to explain the ultimate truth to an unenlightened person due to the limitations of human language and also to the person's lack of insight regarding the nature of reality.

Also if the questions reflected gross misunderstanding on the part of the questioner, the Buddha would not  answer them. Being a practical teacher, the Buddha thought that such questions were not relevant to the person's spiritual development. If the questioner's intention was not to lead a religious life but simply aimed at splitting hairs, the Buddha would not answer his questions. The Buddha would only answer questions to help a person towards self-realization, not to show off His wisdom.

It is important to note that the Buddha did give answers to some of his most intellectually developed students after the questioner had left. His explanations are also found in other discourses which show that the Buddha did not answer these questions just to satisfy the curiosity of the questioners.

Tenzin K

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Re: 14 unanswerable questions
« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2012, 12:47:43 PM »
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.

Midakpa

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Re: 14 unanswerable questions
« Reply #3 on: August 19, 2012, 01:30:50 PM »
It is interesting to note that the Buddha employed several ways to answer various types of questions. The following are four types of questions and the type of answers the Buddha would give:

1. The type of question that requires a "yes" or "no" answer.
For example, the question, "Are all conditioned things impermanent?"
The answer is "yes".

2. The type of question that requires an analytical answer.
For example, the question, 'Angulimala was a murderer before he became an arahat. So is it possible for all murderers to become arhats?"
Before you say "yes" or "no" to this question, it is necessary to analyse what conditions make it possible for a murderer to become a saint within one lifetime.

3. The type of question where it is necessary to ask a counter question to help the questioner to think it through.
For example, the question, "Why is it wrong to kill other living beings?"
The counter question would be, "How does it feel when others try to kill you?"

4. The type of question that should not be answered.
For example, "Does the universe have a beginning or not?"
The question is speculative in nature and any answer may create more confusion.

The questions mentioned in Q's post belong to the fourth type. These are questions that can be discussed for years without coming to a conclusion. It is said that the Buddha's silence is more meaningful than attempting to answer them in thousands of discourses. When ordinary people who have not realized the truth try to understand it with their limited conceptual mind, it is like the seven blind men and the elephant. They would not be able to fathom the explanation given. A man who was born blind at birth will not understand the colour of the sky.

In fact, the Buddha had answered some of these questions in his discourses. Those who are interested can read about the Buddha's explanations with regard to the universe in the Samyutta Nikaya. Explanations regarding the existence of self are found in the Anatta Lakkhana Sutta.


dondrup

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Re: 14 unanswerable questions
« Reply #4 on: August 19, 2012, 02:26:56 PM »
Buddha had once picked up a handful of leaves on the forest ground.  He then told his disciples that this handful of leaves in his hand is sufficient for them and they need not have all the leaves in the forest.  Buddha was referring to the knowledge sentient beings need to liberate themselves from samsara and to gain enlightenment. 

There is so much to know about the universe, nature, life, truths and so on.  It is not about knowing everything but to know the right thing.  The desire to know more about an object without the correct motivation develops attachment to the object. We do not want to develop attachment – one of the root causes of samsara!

Buddha is silent on these questions because the subjects are too profound and difficult for those with no capability to understand them.  It will only create more confusion than understanding to know them.

hope rainbow

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Re: 14 unanswerable questions
« Reply #5 on: August 24, 2012, 03:11:50 PM »
The phrase "fourteen unanswerable questions" (Avyakrta in Sanskrit), in Buddhism, refers to fourteen common philosophical questions that Buddha refused to answer, according to Buddhist Sanskrit texts. Pali texts give only ten.

Fourteen questions

Questions referring to the world: concerning the existence of the world in time
*Is the world eternal?
*or not?
*or both?
*or neither?
Pali texts omit "both" and "neither".

Questions referring to the world: concerning the existence of the world in space
*Is the world finite?
*or not?
*or both?
*or neither?
Pali texts omit "both" and "neither".

Questions referring to personal experience
*Is the self identical with the body?
*or is it different from the body?

Questions referring to life after death
*Does the Tathagata exist after death?
*or not?
*or both?
*or neither?

Buddha's answer to the questions, according to the scriptures

The Buddha remained silent when asked these fourteen questions. He described them as a net and refused to be drawn into such a net of theories, speculations, and dogmas. He said that it was because he was free of bondage to all theories and dogmas that he had attained liberation. Such speculations, he said, are attended by fever, unease, bewilderment, and suffering, and it is by freeing oneself of them that one achieves liberation.
____________________________________________________________________________________

I read and extracted this from wikipedia. I thought it was rather interesting that there are 14 questions that the Buddha didn't or refused to answer.

In your opinion, why did the Buddha refused to answer this 14 questions. In fact, what is your opinion about these questions and how answering or not answering it will help us in our spiritual growth?


LOL!
We can actually answer YES and NO to each and every of these questions and still be at the same place where we were at the time we asked the questions....
I suspect that the reply from the Buddha towards these questions, or the "non-reply" to be more precise does not relate to the questions themselves but to the mind-set with which these questions are asked, a mind-set not aligned with a wise understanding of reality and certainly not set to ACT!
In the same vein we could also ask:

Does time has a beginning?
*yes it does?
*or not?
*or both?
*or neither?

Does time has an end?
*yes it does?
*or not?
*or both?
*or neither?

Is there an infinite amount of beings?
*yes there is?
*or no?

Does the world as I know it still exist after I pass away?
*yes it does?
*or not?
*or both yes and no?
*or neither?

Have I ever existed?
*yes I have?
*or not?
*or both yes and no?
*or neither?

I imagine the much better questions would be:

Do I suffer? Really?
Doe we all suffer then?
Why/how do we suffer?
Can there be an end to our sufferings?
How do we achieve this result?

The rest may just be silly intellectual questions meant to understand the metaphysical aspect of reality but without any propelling understanding to address suffering in any way.
Why would the Buddha entertain these questions? There would be no point...

Ensapa

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Re: 14 unanswerable questions
« Reply #6 on: August 26, 2012, 01:45:39 AM »
I have found a more concise explanation on the 14 unanswerable questions. I find this explanation to be a lot more clearer that what has been discussed here. Also, note that the style of the questions is very similar to Nagajurna's style and also the one used in the heart sutra.

Quote
The Fourteen Questions to Which Buddha Remained Silent

Alexander Berzin
February 2007
There are fourteen unspecified points (lung-du ma-bstan-pa bcu-bzhi), which are points about which Buddha did not specify an answer when asked. Often this set of fourteen is referred to as the “fourteen questions to which Buddha remained silent.”

The Mahayana Version
To those who believe in a true findably existent “me” or “self” (bdag, Skt. atman) and a true findably existent universe, Buddha did not answer when they asked are the “I” or the “self” and the universe:

eternal,
not eternal, since they undergo gross impermanence at the time of their destruction,
as both, in the sense that some beings and their environments, like the Creator Brahma and his heaven, are eternal; while all else, such as his creations, are not eternal and end at the time of their destruction,
neither, since it is impossible to  know?
Are “I’s” or “selves” and the universe:

finite,
infinite,
both finite and infinite, in the sense that limited beings (sentient beings) are infinite in number, but the universe is finite in size,
neither, since it is impossible to know?
Does the “I” or the “self” of a Buddha:

continue to exist after death,
not continue after death,
both, in the sense that the body does not continue, but the life-force (srog) does,
neither?
Buddha did not answer these because there is no such thing as a true findably existent “me” or “self” for either limited beings (sentient beings) or a Buddha, and no such thing as a true findably existent universe. Therefore, there can be no question whether such things are eternal or not eternal, or finite or infinite. It is like asking do rabbit-horns, turtle-hair or chicken-lips last forever or only a limited time. If Buddha said the “me,” and so on are eternal, these people would fall to the position of eternalism. If he said they are not eternal, they would fall to the position of nihilism, since they would not understand his answer. Therefore, it was more skillful not to specify an answer at all.

To those who believe in a true findably existent body and life-force, Buddha did not answer when they asked are the body and life-force:

the same entity,
totally separate and different entities?
He remained silent for a similar reason, since they would only misunderstand anything he said.

The Theravada Version
An earlier, abbreviated list of ten unspecified points appears in the Pali canon in the Sutta of Shorter (Instructions) to Malunkya (Pali: Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta, within the The Collection of Middle-Length Discourses (Pali: Majjhima Nikaya). In this version, the monk Malunkyaputta was continuously distracted by metaphysical speculation during his meditation. In order to turn him back to his intensive meditation practice, Buddha remained silent when Malunkyaputta asked whether:

the universe is eternal,
the universe is not eternal,
the universe is finite,
the universe is infinite,
after death, a Buddha continues to exist,
after death, a Buddha does not continue to exist,
after death, a Buddha both continues to exist and not to exist,
after death, a Buddha neither continues to exist or not to exist,
the body and the “self” are the same entity,
the body and the “self” are totally separate and different entities.

lotus1

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Re: 14 unanswerable questions
« Reply #7 on: August 26, 2012, 03:43:57 PM »
Would answering the 14 questions help us in making us happier? Would Buddha give us the answers and we would be able to understand it? When we know the answer of the questions, would it help the mankind?

There are so many different types of knowledge in this world. However, what Buddha is interested to teach us is the way that it will make us to be a happy person. Time is really short and if we keep going around these chicken and eggs questions, we would not have time to really focus on finding the way to make us a happier person or make the world a better place to live in.